Here’s how it was supposed to go: Republican Rick Lazio wins the gubernatorial nod at New York’s state party convention and rides it all the way to a general election trouncing at the hands of Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
Carl Paladino had other plans. The Tea Party-lovin’, racist email-sending, welfare-recipients-to-prisons-proposing millionaire who collected enough signatures to force a primary with Lazio September 14, could just snatch the party nomination out of Lazio’s mosque-hating grasp.
A Qunnipiac poll this week shows Paladino trailing by 12 points. But Lazio’s lead of 47-35 has shrunk since the last Quinnipiac poll, at the end of July, when Lazio led 39-23. A Siena poll from mid-August also shows Lazio’s lead shrinking, from 40-20 in Siena’s mid-July poll to 43-30 by August.
The TPM Poll Average finds Lazio leading Paladino 46.3%-34.8%. Check out the trend lines. Lazio still has a double-digit lead, of course, but Paladino has been closing the gap.
Paladino started out riding this election season’s wave of populist anger with his “I’m mad as hell” campaign slogan and his pledge to be “cleaning out the dirty trash” of Albany if elected.
But as the campaign has worn on, and as Paladino has picked up the backing of some officials in the state Republican party and several county GOP leaders, he’s pivoted slightly to focus on more substantive issues, however unorthodox his proposals may be (see: housing welfare recipients to prisons).
One recent proposal is the “dignity corps,” based on the Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal, according to a Paladino press release. Paladino hopes the “community work programs will give long-term unemployed New Yorkers an opportunity to train, work
and upgrade their skills to find fulfilling jobs.”
It also helps that Lazio has been doing pretty much the opposite — focusing his energy on opposing the planned Park51 Islamic center a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Lazio has even challenged Cuomo to a debate that only focuses on the center, a request that has gone largely ignored by Cuomo.
Paladino has also been outspoken in his opposition to Park51, but Lazio’s TV ads and web videos — which invoke imagery of the 9/11 attacks to oppose the planned Islamic center — have managed to evoke the ire of New York City firefighters and police sergeants alike.
And for all of his challenges to Cuomo, Lazio has been pretty evasive when it comes to Paladino’s own challenges for a debate, giving the Republican outsider a chance to pounce: “Clearly, Rick Lazio is too frightened to appear at a public one-on-one debate with me. Maybe Rick can’t face the voters because he has so many smudges on his lifelong record as a career politician.”
All of this may be why, as Ben Smith points out, the reliably conservative New York Post has been calling out Lazio, and even offering some faint praise for Paladino:
Maybe it’s because Paladino talks about issues relevant to people.
On Thursday, for example, he encouraged state workers to help identify blatant examples of waste and those scamming the system.
Lazio is barely saying anything.
Of course, 12 points is a lot of ground to make up. And Lazio still has the traditionally vital Conservative Party backing, and the support of 55 county GOP leaders (to the Paladino campaign’s claim of 8, according to the New York Times).
But now Paladino, who’s been using his significant fortune to finance his campaign, is turning his attention to TV ads leading up to the September 14 primary. Campaign spokesman Michael Caputo sent out a statement yesterday detailing the final push:
Today begins our media push. We’re on television and radio full-force, hitting Republicans’ mailboxes and gearing up for a big finish at a time when the Q-poll shows Rick’s voters are looking for another candidate. And Rick is out of cash. Carl Paladino is tailgating Rick Lazio; everyone knows it and the public polls prove it. We’re pulling into the passing lane today and we’ll have Rick in our rear view mirror by next week.
Caputo’s confidence aside, Paladino has a much simpler view of his campaign. “I’m a novice to all this,” he says. “I’m just frankly telling you what I think. I’ll get in the face of anyone I think is wrong.”