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Cuomo ready for budget campaign

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is enjoying such spectacular acceptance with New York voters that you might think Albany has replaced Niagara Falls as the honeymoon capital.

Indeed, Siena College pollsters last week reported 70 percent of voters view him favorably, while more than two-thirds support eight of the 11 specifics outlined in his State of the State address.

That includes 87-to-10 percent backing for closing the deficit with no new taxes or borrowing; 83-to-13 percent support for a property tax cap; and 86-to-11 percent backing for limiting growth in state spending to the inflation rate.

"When you test 11 items, and the 'weakest' one is support for legalizing same-sex marriage at 57 to 38 percent, that's really something," Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg said.

But the planet may not harbor more cynical beings than grizzled old political reporters, the kind who have previously seen such early and rosy numbers for governors named Mario and George and Eliot and David. So one of them asked Greenberg to think about the numbers a few weeks hence, when Cuomo must transcend the rhetoric of the State of the State with real budget numbers.

Greenberg, a veteran Albany hand himself, knows the test is yet to come. Things could change if school districts lay off teachers, or Medicaid cuts force an end to treasured benefits, or economic development projects get the ax.

That's why he and other Albany observers believe that after a yearlong effort to elect a governor, another campaign season is about to be launched. This one will pit all the special interests and their piles of money against Cuomo -- who anticipated he would breeze to election in November and kept $4.2 million for a rainy day exactly like the one that lies ahead.

"February and March are going to look just like September and October in an election year," Greenberg predicted. "We'll have a full-blown ground and air war like we've never seen before.

"It won't be an election, but it will be for the hearts and minds of the voters," he added.

It's happened before. Special interest groups like public employee unions launch television campaigns against budget proposals. It's what public employee unions do.

But this year, other groups are lining up to win hearts and minds, too.

As reported by our colleague Phil Fairbanks, a new Cuomo-blessed outfit called the Committee to Save New York is entering the fray as an anti-spending, anti-tax organization aiming to offset the influence of organized labor. The group already has $10 million in the bank and wants to raise twice that amount.

Add the bully pulpit of a popular new governor who has vowed to change a tax-and-spend culture, and there's an official campaign under way. And Cuomo has taken his message to Jamestown, Watertown and Poughkeepsie, with many more points on the New York map to follow.

Greenberg promises more polling in the weeks ahead by Siena, and you can bet the other big pollsters like Marist and Quinnipiac will follow suit. They will test previous poll results that showed New Yorkers favoring tax hikes over cuts in health care or education.

"We know voters don't like cuts in education or health care," Greenberg said. "But we also know if Cuomo lives up to his promise of no tax cuts, borrowing or gimmicks, we're going to have to have cuts."

So Cuomo faces this most crucial upcoming period better prepared than any other governor before him. Mario's boy has learned a thing or two along the way, and recognizes voter tolerance of drastic measures for a drastic situation -- a $10 billion deficit.

"Cuomo will not let himself be attacked and unanswered," Greenberg said. "This will be different."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

Get the latest from the campaign trail at the Politics Now blog on buffalonews.com

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