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Quiet race to oppose Gillibrand

You might not have noticed, but a statewide campaign for the U.S. Senate is under way.

---- Nobody is challenging Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand yet, but three Republicans are striving mightily for the honor. They include Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, Rep. Bob Turner of Queens and Manhattan attorney Wendy Long.

---- On the surface, the contest is a low-key affair. The three have little money and little name recognition outside their own turf, and it will be hard for any GOP type to compete against an incumbent Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. And, oh yes – Gillibrand's last report indicated more than $9 million on hand, with more to come.

---- Indeed, the odds for all of them are staggering, at least at this point. A new Siena Research Institute poll shows Gillibrand leading all three candidates by at least 38 points.

---- The same survey shows 16 percent of New Yorkers viewing Turner favorably, 16 percent unfavorably, and the rest just plain don't know. Long and Maragos both showed 9 to 11 percent favorable/unfavorable ratings.

---- "With just two weeks until Republicans choose Gillibrand's November opponent, 70 percent of Republicans are undecided on who to vote for. Turner has the support of 16 percent, followed by Long at 11 percent and Maragos at 3 percent," said Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg. "The Republican primary winner will have a lot of work ahead of him or her as Gillibrand currently leads Turner by 38 points, Maragos by 42 points and Long by 43 points.

---- "Five months is a long time in the political world," he added, "but a 40-point deficit against a popular incumbent is hard to overcome."

---- Gillibrand can read the numbers, too. When she visits Western New York, it's usually to plug one of her many bills promoting job creation or veterans' benefits. Politics? She isn't interested in discussing that. She doesn't have to.

---- Nevertheless, the action is fast and furious among the Republican candidates. They have regularly visited Western New York, even though none is familiar with this end of the state. (Quick test for each: pronounce Scajaquada).

---- Each brings impressive credentials.

---- Turner is the congressman from Queens and Brooklyn who stunned the nation last year by winning the seat vacated by former Rep. Anthony Wiener. And he did it as a Republican on solid Democratic turf. His argument: "I did it once, I can do it again."

---- Turner broke into the air waves last week with a radio spot featuring Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and probably the most recognizable Republican in the state.

---- "He is widely respected across the entire state, from Buffalo to Long Island, and I can't think of a better friend or champion of effective and efficient government to have in my corner," Turner said of the new ad.
---- Maragos, meanwhile, has about $1 million on hand. He has said he will spend his own resources on the race. Most importantly, he hails from Nassau, the most Republican county in all of New York.

---- And Long has emerged as the "upstate candidate," even though she acknowledged she had never visited Buffalo before her initial foray here in February. Her upstate strength allows her to link Gillibrand with Obama in hopes that vote will do the trick – even though upstate as a region now weighs in as Democratic, too.

---- In the last days of the campaign before the June 26 primary, the GOP campaign will garner as much ink and air time as it will get. Even that won't amount to much.

---- But three Republican candidates are out there working overtime, and winning the general election presents an even more monstrous challenge. These days in Democratic New York, you have to give them credit for trying.