Rick Lazio withdraws: How angry will New York governor's race get?

Exit of Rick Lazio, former GOP congressman, from the New York governor's race is likely to make the contest closer. Now it's between a combative Paladino and Cuomo, who says he's angry, too.

Richard Drew/AP
Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio, accompanied by his wife Patricia, addresses a New York news conference, on Sept. 27. Lazio withdrew from the race for New york governor.

Rick Lazio has dropped out of the race for New York governor. What does that mean? It means that the campaign to run the Empire State, which was already at about 7 on a 1-to-10 scale of political drama, just got even more exciting.

Mr. Lazio’s departure will probably help Republican candidate Carl Paladino shave a few more percentage points off the gap between him and Democrat Andrew Cuomo, New York’s state attorney general. Recent polls have already shown Mr. Paladino, a "tea party" favorite and self-described “angry man,” is drawing closer to Mr. Cuomo, scion of one of the most storied families in New York Democratic politics.

Thus as we round the turn and head toward November the tone of the New York gubernatorial contest will likely be more and more combative, as the wealthy Paladino continues to describe what he’ll do to Albany with a baseball bat and as Cuomo insists that at heart he’s pretty darn angry, too.

How nasty will it get? It could get as tough as the slugfest in the Nevada Senate race between majority leader Harry Reid and GOP candidate Sharron Angle – only with much more expensive media consultants.

As he dropped out, Lazio complained that the Paladino-Cuomo race has already degenerated into name-calling and that the main candidates aren’t directly engaging each other.

The campaign “has defaulted to a mania over anger,” Lazio said.

“I understand the anger, the primal scream, the frustration,” Lazio said. “I want to see [Paladino and Cuomo] pull together to hold candidates accountable and have a real meaningful set of ideas.”

Lazio, a former GOP congressman, lost to Paladino in the New York gubernatorial primary. But he stayed on the ballot for the general election due to the fact that he had earlier picked up the gubernatorial nomination of the Conservative Party, which remains a force in the state’s politics.

On Monday Lazio withdrew from the race altogether, removing his name from the Conservative line on the ballot and clearing the way for the party to name another standard-bearer – who will most likely be Paladino.

No Republican has won statewide office in New York for more than a quarter-century without Conservative Party support. That’s because GOP candidates need every bit of support they can get to help overcome the huge number of Democratic voters in New York City.

Recent polls have shown an unexpectedly tight race. A Quinnipiac survey released last week put Cuomo ahead by only six percentage points, 49 percent to 43 percent. An automated poll from Survey USA put Cuomo ahead by nine points, 49 percent to 40 percent.

Both these polls counted only likely voters, not all registered voters. Determining likely voters is a difficult task for pollsters, especially in state races, so it is possible these surveys are off. A Pollster.com trend line combining numerous polls puts the race at a 13 percent margin, with Cuomo at 53 percent and Paladino at 40 percent.

Lazio’s support in polls has generally hovered in the high single digits. But if the race is indeed as close as the Quinnipiac poll shows, then another eight percentage points or so added to Paladino’s support could mean the difference in the race.

Lazio is not endorsing Paladino, however. At least, not yet.

“I look at the two major party candidates and see flawed individuals,” said Lazio at the press conference at which he announced his withdrawal.

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