For some people, the rent may still be too damn high, but for Carl Paladino and his campaign, the gubernatorial debate was a wash. Jimmy McMillan became the face of New York gone wild, and the only thing that the press wanted to talk about. (What? After that event did you really think everyone would suddenly start obsessing over pension guarantees?) Once again, a New York Republican was left grasping at straws. But, at least this time, he wasn’t also the butt of all the jokes.
The potency of strange third parties are usually not in dispute — a mix a political expectations and savvy leadership can go a long way, as the experience of the Working Families Party in New York has shown. Unfortunately for Republicans, the WFP does not provide a good example of what to with do an extremely embarrassing candidate, with serious baggage, who can’t win and threatens to bring down the rest of the party’s chances. With Paladino, the hope now is that people won’t care.
It’s created a strange situation where Paladino keeps on going after Cuomo, with full vigor, as the press cares less and less. We know what’s he’s do so far. As one Buffalo resident put it to the Times, “then he’s making gay slurs, he’s threatening to beat up that guy on camera, and people see all that. You don’t want a mobster as governor.” It’s not easy for a candidate to straddle the line of respectability so clearly, especially while making accusations about how the other guy spends his money and Paladino hasn’t been able to do it. Nan Hayworth, the retired ophthalmologist running for a seat in the northern suburbs of New York as a Tea partier, has had to play hide and go-seek with Paladino’s support — the voters may be mad as hell, but they’ve also realized that a man angrier than them might not be the safest choice for the state. While Hayworth plays coy about Paladino, she has been able to rack up support from a more powerful place: The future Speaker of the House. Next week, Rep. John Boehner, the Republican minority leader will be coming to town to raise money for Hayworth. Even if someone’s ashamed by Paladino, it’s not a problem so big that a few Republican donors can’t fix.
Carl Paladino has no shot of beating Andrew Cuomo. He is a staple of both the national cable networks and the local news. There are at least five New York Congressional Democrats running for re-election in swing districts facing an array of Republican challengers trying to harness voter dissatifaction into political change. How many of those races have you seen covered wall-to-wall in the tabloids? (And, no, the guy from Ohio who likes Nazi re-enacting does not count.)
It was always expected that Cuomo’s opponent would politically suffocate under a pile of opposition research, but Paladino’s decision to explode — this week, it was his comments about gays – have obscured the fact that even the non-extreme parts of the American polity are leaning Republican this year. In New York, a generally Democratic state with a limping Republican party apparatus, Paladino’s combusting engine of a campaign has fired up the base but possibly blocked the situation’s progress. Forget Pataki, forget Giuliani; the image of the GOP in this state right now is embodied by a man who has condemned gay marriage and allegedly forwarded lots and lots of porn, some displaying pictures of a kind of relationship that he would consider deeply unnatural.
The hubbub has caused headaches for Republican prospectives. At a debate Wednesday night, a retired opthamologist with a Tea party bent who is taking on Rep. John Hall of District 19 (Westchester County, Rockland County, Orange County), was forced to answer whether she’d accept Paladino’s support. She said yes, as long as he could make sure people would be able to comfortably pursue their personal life. Hall, who was elected in 2006 and is basically tied, was asked a similar question about Charlie Rangel, a man who is barely in the news.
This funny dance, where a crazy-sounding gadfly both distracts from and destroys surging Republican support, is a dynamic to watch: Paladino has joined the likes of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware as a national target for Democrats, whether it’s because they are easy foils that make it seem like disaster is not impending or because they are just compelling bogeymen (and bogeywomen). But maybe it’s time we should turn our eyes away from the trainwreck and focus on the Hall-Hayworth race, or Tim Bishop’s surprising durability in the 1st district on the East End of Long Island , or the fact that Bill Owens is somehow still leading in the 23rd district by five points even though it should be an obvious Republican pickup.
All of these seats are the ones that matter, the type of small races that can swing Congress, change the shape of the healthcare system or the national debt. The arc of those races are the ones to watch for the next 18 days — polls are just snapshots, and nothing is set in stone. Except for the fact that Carl Paladino will probably lose.
So that’s why they call Andrew Cuomo the Prince of Darkness. It probably over-estimates the political prowess of the Attorney General—and underplays the wackiness of Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino—to give him credit for the events of the past week, but it once again shows that effectively corralling the support of the establishment has real political benefits.
Let’s recap. Ever since Paladino rendered the Republican establishment ineffectual and State Senator Eric Schneiderman knocked out Cuomo’s preferred candidates in the Democratic primary election for Attorney General, Cuomo has looked weaker than expected, unable to hold down his left flank or rouse up enthusiastic support. Polls were even showing Paladino within less than ten points, about twenty points higher than expected.
Then came the deluge. The Post reminded everyone that Paladino had a daughter out-of-wedlock (she’s now ten), hurting him even more with women voters. The Times pulled public records on Paladino’s aides, and the results weren’t pretty, with personal baggage strewn all over the news pages. Then it all culminated with Paladino picking a fight with Post Albany bureau chief on tape and implying that Cuomo had affairs of his own.
Part of this new scrutiny is par for the course—Paladino is untested, new, and a guy who is running as the guy who is “mad as hell.” But there’s another element, and it points to why the Post is going hard on Paladino, a fellow conservative. Cuomo knows how to work the political press, and the tabloid press, like no one else—not in terms of public speaking, but in terms of taking down an opponent or preserving political capital. It goes back a while—one nice example of this is that, in famed New York political columnist Jack Newfield’s memoir, Andrew Cuomo appears only twice, and never as a political adversary. In one case, he’s the guy who was tasked with (successfully) keeping a David Dinkins affair out of the tabloids in the days leading up the 1989 Mayoral election. In the second case, he’s the guy whose close connections with the neoconservative Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel got Newfield a writing gig. It’s a backroom game he’s played a while.
The only issue with this kind of power is that, in the year of the Tea Party, the year of rampant unemployment, the year of populist anger, it takes more than a couple well-delivered shots to take down an opponent. Cuomo only needs to run down the clock to election day, but Paladino may stay a nuisance longer than anyone would have predicted two weeks ago.
It’s not good news for Andrew Cuomo that the most recent Quinnipiac poll had him leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino by only six points. (Yes, that Paladino is the same “Crazy Carl” who, until his surprising nomination victory, was mostly known for his history of forwarding insane, racially problematic emails. While Cuomo has found himself in a much closer race than he’d like, an examination of the dynamics driving the poll results reveals why Paladino is probably peaking — and, more interestingly, sheds light on why Congressional Democrats might not be as doomed as previously thought.
The conventional wisdom right now is that, while the Cuomo juggernaut is insulated, upstate Congressional Democrats will have a tough time fighting the Republican, anti-incumbent wave. When someone like Paladino, who built his insurgent primary campaign on the backs of Tea Party sympathizers, becomes the nominee and creeps to within striking distance of the Governor’s mansion, it seems like further confirmation that moderates like Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-24) or Rep. Scott Murphy (D-20) should start packing their bags. But a new Siena poll shows Arcuri, whose district includes Utica, up by eight against Richard Hanna, the businessman who he barely defeated two years ago. Another Siena poll shows Murphy, who was 700 votes away from losing the special election that catapulted him into office in 2009, leading his rural distract by 17 points.
What do two overachieving moderate Congressman and one underachieving would-be Governor have in common? Undefined opponents. In each of the polls, the Democrat is a much better known commodity than the Republican. According to Quinnipiac, only 15 percent of likely voters don’t have an opinion of Cuomo, while 31 percent don’t know enough to have a view of Paladino. Arcuri has a similar name advantage: 21 percent don’t have an opinion of him, compared to 44 percent for Hanna. And with Murphy, the advantage is even more striking: only 17 percent have no solid views, while nearly four times as many respondents have no opinion of Colin Gibson, his opponent.
For Cuomo, the advantage is obvious: He has about $30 million dollars, along with endorsements from the likes of Mayor Bloomberg, to sway those who don’t know about every bad thing Paladino has ever done or bcc’d. The other Democrats, tarred and feathered and identified with an unpopular party, are known quantities that still are holding onto a lead. A combination of decent fundraising and some hardball politicking — be prepared for every Republican candidate in the state to be forced to parry questions about whether they support something outrageous that Paladino said — might be enough to hold off the wave.
In 2004, George W. Bush, faced with flagging approval ratings and an electorate angry about a war, kept his grip on the White House by making the election more than just a referendum on his performance; he made it a choice between himself and the shifty Massachusetts senator whose views were consistently called into question. Democrats can’t deny the sluggish economy, or hope for affirmation of their performance — they can only lay out that the other guy is terrifying, or unknown, or will make things worse. (MoveOn now warns, “Stop the Takeover.”) Andrew Cuomo’s courting of former county chairs and old pols like Ed Koch might seem like a weird sop to the establishment in a year when everyone wants to storm the barracks, but it’s also the groundwork for the kind of political dynamic that Karl Rove mastered six years ago. The implicit slogan is simple: more of the same versus terrifying change.