Albany, NY – Former Long Island Congressman Rick Lazio was chosen by the state Republican Party at its convention, after an attempt by the party's leadership to field another candidate failed. Lazio, best known for his unsuccessful race for Senate against Hillary Clinton in 2000, had been working on Wall Street for most of the last decade.
The former Congressman has been campaigning for nearly a year, but he's failed to catch fire, and currently has around half a million dollars in his campaign war chest. Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo has over $20 million dollars in his campaign account. Lazio is also facing a primary against Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who has narrowing Lazio's lead in the polls. But Lazio says he's confident about Tuesday's contest.
"People want somebody who is a competent, proven leader," said Lazio. "I know how to turn this state around."
Real estate magnate Paladino has his own personal fortune, and has pledged to spend up to $10 million dollars of his money, should he win the primary. Paladino has positioned himself to represent the angry voter, as evidenced in his campaign ads, asking voters whether they are "mad as hell".
Paladino, a controversial figure, raised eyebrows when he was found to be sending e-mails to friends and associates that contained racial slurs. He shrugged off criticism at the time, saying the e-mails might even win him some support.
He's vowed to, in his words "take out the trash" in Albany, and said he'll send Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a powerful Democratic figure, to Attica prison. He's also proposed sending welfare recipients to work training camps in unused prison space or other under- utilized government buildings. He calls the plan a "Dignity Corp", modeled after FDR's Civilian Conservation Corp, but says he would also teach them better personal hygiene. He spoke about the plan recently, in Buffalo.
Paladino, like Lazio has pledged to cut taxes and government spending.
While many new Yorkers are focused on the poor economy, both candidates have campaigned on the controversy over a proposed Mosque and community center near Ground Zero. In an ad featuring Lazio and financed by the state Conservative Party, the candidate calls the Imam "terrorist sympathizing" and asks "who is really behind" the mosque plans.
There have been no debates in the race, Lazio did not agree to any. Paladino desired a face to face match up, at one point hiring a man in a chicken suit to follow Lazio around at campaign stops, but he was ultimately rebuffed.
The most recent polls show Paladino gaining on Lazio, and while the former Congressman is still ahead, his support is shaky. Whatever happens in the primary, both are considered long shots in the general election for governor, against the popular Democrat and current Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, says Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.
"No matter how you slice it, Andrew Cuomo has a huge lead," said Greenberg, who said Cuomo is consistently 40 points ahead of the two GOP contenders in the polls.
Until recently Paladino and Lazio did not even acknowledge each other, preferring to position themselves as the leading candidate against Cuomo. But lately Paladino has begin attacking Lazio in ads using the L word, labeling him a "liberal", Lazio calls Paladino a "shock jock", and predicts voters will ultimately prefer a problem solver, like himself.
A loss in the GOP primary won't necessarily mean the end of the political road for either candidate. Lazio still has the state Conservative Party's backing for the general election, Paladino has said he'll run on a third party tea party- like line- that he and his supporters have created.