MELVILLE, N.Y. — NASSAU County Republican boss Joseph Mondello knows how to flex his political muscles. Right up to the New York State primary on Thursday, he expects his 2,077 committee workers to be pounding Long Island's suburban streets to drum up votes for Sen. Bob Dole.
Mr. Mondello says, ''We'll do everything we have to, including baby-sitting, to get out our voters.'' ''We'' refers to the state's Republican officials, who have almost universally endorsed Senator Dole.
Those endorsements mean that in the Empire State, Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan - the only other Republicans on the ballot - are battling just about the entire political structure from the governor to the local block captains. It is men versus machine. So far, the early polls of likely voters show the machine ahead of Mr. Buchanan by 33 percentage points and Mr. Forbes by 36 percentage points.
As voters in 10 states go to the polls today, this will be a key test of the Dole strategy - to use governors and their political structure to get him to San Diego
Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan are battling the entire political structure in the Empire State, from the governor on down.
with the nomination wrapped up.
Of course, anything is possible in politics, particularly in a key state like New York, where many voters are miffed that Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, both Dole supporters, tried to avoid a primary fight. ''New Yorkers see themselves as very independent,'' says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Bucking the party in New York, however, is going to be more difficult than in other states. The primary is not a direct beauty contest among the candidates vying for the 102 delegates. Instead, the voters will be choosing delegates who were picked by the candidates.
In Suffolk County, for example, one Dole delegate will be Bob Gaffney, the county executive, who is well-liked. ''We're playing it like an athletic competition, putting out well-known names as delegates to the convention and praying that it attracts a lot of attention,'' says Mondello.
Republican consultant Joseph Mercurio believes this ''architecture'' gives Dole an edge. ''You would have to vote against someone you like and know and might have called you personally,'' he explains. In addition, he says party delegates are raising money called ''delegate committee money.'' He says these funds can be used to pay for phone banks and local mail in each congressional district. The individual fund-raising cap is $5,000 per donor compared to only $1,000 given directly to the Dole campaign.
Dole has not spent much time campaigning in the state. On Sunday, he appeared at a political rally at Long Island's MacArthur Airport, where 600 to 700 supporters braved six inches of snow to greet him. ''I think it was great,'' said Scott Simmons, a Dole supporter who waited three hours for the candidate.
FORBES, on the other hand, will be trying to appeal directly to New Yorkers with an intense burst of advertising. Gretchen Morgenson, Forbes's press secretary, says the magazine mogul intends to spend a ''substantial'' amount of money. She refuses to confirm reports it could be as much as $4 million. The Forbes ads did not start running until this past weekend.
Forbes also plans to spend several days campaigning in the state. On Sunday he was the only candidate to show up for WNBC's candidates' forum.
In addition, Forbes plans on mailing every Republican voter literature with a tear-off ''palm card'' that lists the names of Forbes's delegates. On election day, Forbes will mount a $1 million phone calling operation to target his likely voters.
Tom Stevens, a Forbes delegate in Queens, says he has found a sympathetic public. ''People don't like the fact that Dole is being shoved down our throats,'' says Dr. Stevens, who is also president of the New York Young Republican Club Inc.
While Forbes is mounting an expensive campaign, Pat Buchanan is counting on volunteers like Christine Saachi, a homemaker and mother of four on Staten Island.
Working out of her kitchen, Mrs. Saachi is organizing volunteers to pass out Buchanan literature in the conservative haven. She estimates she has spent $300 to $400 out of her own pocket so far. ''It's been fun,'' she adds.
Like Buchanan, Saachi has consistently run against the political establishment. She has run on the Right to Life ticket against Rep. Susan Molinari, who is on the ballot as a Dole delegate. ''I would rather stick to my principles than be part of a power rich club or a protege or lackey,'' says Saachi.
Buchanan supporters are not only battling the governor, but also Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has argued against the conservative candidate at every opportunity. Mr. Giuliani says he will reveal whom he plans to vote for today. It is not likely to be Forbes, however, since Giuliani is opposed to Forbes's flat tax.
The primary is likely to be run differently in the future. Governor Pataki has promised to open up the process in the future so the voters can chose any of the candidates - not just the party's pick.