NY Republicans have a big decision to make

The Republican Party has quite a mess on its hands. They are debating the question as to whether they would like to be a tea party, ideologically right wing pure, or whether they would like to win. In order to prevail, the gubernatorial choice leading their ticket must be someone who can garner enough Democratic and Independent votes in New York to beat the presumed Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo. That will not be easy. Andrew is way ahead in the polls.

Some Republican Party leaders are in a tailspin so they are turning to an old method — they are looking to a Democrat with conservative credentials. Enter Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who has now switched to the Republican Party. He does not have the Conservative Party executive committee with him. In New York state politics, this is crucial stuff because no Republican candidate for governor has ever won without Conservative Party support. The Conservative Party leaders (with some exceptions) don’t like Democrats, any Democrats. That includes Steve Levy.

Until now, the presumed Republican nominee for the office was former Congressman Rick Lazio. Lazio, you remember, ran against Hillary Clinton for Senate and got swamped. Levy, a sitting office holder, has raised several million dollars for his war chest. Lazio has yet to raise his first million. The presumptive Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo, has raised nearly four times as much as Levy.

County Executive Levy has several things going for him. He is a good talker; a better talker than Cuomo. He is handsome, in a nineteen-forties sort of Tom Dewey-esque way and he will bring some Democrats with him. In any debates (Cuomo will resist having them) Levy will paint Cuomo as an old time spender, a chip off the old block. Long Island is already showing signs of defecting, big time, to the Republicans and is one of the largest geographical voting blocks in the state.

Lazio, on the other hand, is a bona fide Republican. He has already been endorsed by none other than the two living but fading Republican super stars, Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki. My bet is that both men thought Lazio was going to get the nomination anyway and they wanted to be logged in as early supporters so as to reap whatever rewards they could in the unlikely event that Lazio won. The problem for Lazio is that almost no one thinks he can beat Cuomo. Levy, who has traditionally garnered Conservative backing on Long Island while running as a Democrat, is another matter.

For his part, Levy faces the traditional turncoat dilemma. When a candidate switches parties he or she risks being labeled as a Benedict Arnold by the previous party and regarded as untrustworthy by the new one. Sometimes the switchers get away with it — look at Mike Bloomberg – but often they do not. Conservative leader (some say “dictator”) Mike Long has lined up impressive support for Lazio. There is some dissension in the ranks with some powerful Conservatives saying they will support Levy. At least one of Cuomo’s journalistic right wing reportorial supporters is already attacking Levy. That’s a pretty good sign that Cuomo would rather run against Lazio than Levy.

In addition to everything else, New York’s dirty little secret is that ethnic and religious politics mean a lot. Levy has a Jewish father and an Italian mother. Lazio, on the other hand might split the traditional Italian vote.

If there is a divisive primary, Lazio will receive a lot of votes from Republican folks who want a “real” Republican. The general election, in Democratic New York, will be another matter. There, Levy might have the upper hand but he will still have to first get through that daunting primary. The fact that Republican state leader Ed Cox has not rejected the Levy candidacy and indeed has welcomed Levy into the Republican Party has got to send shock waves into the Lazio camp. Naturally, Lazio is not happy with Cox.

Things have gotten to be very complicated and these new developments represent considerable risk to those who have to endorse either Levy or Lazio. I expect Conservative leader Mike Long, Republican leader Ed Cox and a slew of lobbyists will be suffering some sleepless nights. Let’s all remember that this looks like a Republican year in New York. A Republican prevailed in the last Massachusetts Senatorial election, so the unthinkable could happen here, too. A lot is at stake.

As always, it comes down to this question for Republicans: “Would you rather be ideologically pure and lose or endorse a Democrat with Conservative credentials and maybe win?”

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/22/10

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5 Comments on “NY Republicans have a big decision to make”

  1. David Says:

    Actually, I think that Lazio is more moderate than Levy — and more appealable to independents and Democrats — which appeal will be critical to having a chance of winning in November. Lazio is certainly more moderate in temprament than Levy.

  2. CC Says:

    Right on!

  3. Daniel Says:

    I completely agree – Lazio is a lightweight, so it’ll be a fascinating election to watch between Cuomo & Levy. I’m guessing Lazio will be out once he wastes the tiny amount of money he has left… What citizens are most upset about is the sad state of the economy. Levy is the only one with a proven fiscal record. He was given the gift of a $283 million deficit when he was elected as Co. Exec. and was able to turn it into a surplus, within a single year. Steve Levy is what New York NEEDS at a time like this.

  4. GL Says:

    So Levy is just another conservative. Just what the country and state do NOT need is more conservatism!

  5. merv Says:

    I like Lazio’s “pureness”, but I think you’re right on with your assesment of Levy.

    Cuomo is old school tax and spend, and probably make compelling social arguments to heat the streets in GB.


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