Paladino-style conservatism nettles GOP - The Buffalo News
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Paladino-style conservatism nettles GOP

Carl P. Paladino has a message for New York’s Republican Party: Find a candidate for governor next year who is well-known, well-financed and truly “Republican,” or he will run on the Conservative Party line himself.

If he were to run as a Conservative candidate for governor, his campaign could wreak havoc with the state GOP.

“We have to have that kind of candidate or I will take the Conservative line, bring the Conservative line to Row B, and waste an election,” Paladino told The Buffalo News last week after Tuesday’s elections and the unofficial kickoff of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s campaign for a second term.

It was Paladino’s strongest hint yet that he may repeat his 2010 campaign to become governor.

Those urging him to run on the Conservative line seek to stave off a “moderate” Republican from becoming the nominee, while establishing the Conservative Party and Paladino as the voices of conservatism in New York State.

So far, Paladino is embracing an idea that could either anoint him as Republican kingmaker or the Conservative candidate.

Since losing to Cuomo by 62.6 percent to 33.3 percent in 2010, Paladino has participated in many tea party rallies, made endorsements of candidates outside of Western New York and participated in events across the state in recent months.

The Buffalo developer and Board of Education member has campaigned for conservative candidates and been warmly received at Conservative Party events.

These efforts have not escaped the attention of state Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long of Brooklyn.

“Carl, after the last race was over, didn’t just pick up his marbles and go home,” Long said. “He ran for the School Board. He’s been very visible in local politics and supporting various candidates. He’s been very visible on the SAFE Act. So I think you have an awareness by the Western New York population that Cuomo’s policies have failed.”

Paladino’s threat to run as a Conservative and split Cuomo’s opposition carries a double whammy for the GOP. No Republican has won statewide office without Conservative Party support since 1974. In addition, a strong showing by Paladino on the Conservative line could end the Republican patronage jobs on boards of elections throughout the state and threaten to reduce the GOP to the third line on the ballot statewide.

The Conservatives almost pulled off such a scenario in 1990 when the GOP tapped an obscure and eccentric economic consultant named Pierre A. Rinfret to challenge then-Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, father of the current governor. As Rinfret imploded, Conservative candidate Herbert I. London came with 1 percentage point of gaining Row B. In fact, he finished second in Erie County.

The Conservative Party may be flexing as much muscle now as ever since it was formed in 1962 to counter the then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller’s “moderate” course for the GOP.

If he does run for governor, his purpose would be to supplant the “Rockefeller Republicans” with the Conservative Party.

While Paladino tries to turn the New York Republican Party to the right, some national Republicans look to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the kind of centrist capable of leading the party back to the White House.

“For the Republican Party to be pulled to the right at this time doesn’t make much sense,” said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at SUNY New Paltz and longtime observer of New York politics.

The GOP’s best course might be to “liberate” itself from the rightward tug of the conservatives, who have exerted so much influence for more than half a century, he added.

State Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox is so far lying low on a possible Paladino return and declined to comment.

Still, some Republicans are beginning to eye specific candidates following Tuesday’s elections. One is Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who beat New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson on Tuesday to emerge as a power in his own right.

Though he has not addressed the subject, the county executive visited Buffalo last summer to introduce himself to local leaders and is known to have support among many of the state’s top Republicans.

But even the head of a major downstate county fails to pass Paladino’s muster.

“Astorino has purposely avoided the conservative side of the party and hangs around with all the RINOs,” Paladino said, referring to Republicans in name only. “That southern Hudson Valley is all RINO country. He’s going to have to make significant choices if he’s going to be a candidate.”

Paladino said he expects Astorino or any other Republican candidate to also disown State Senate Republican Leader Dean G. Skelos, of Long Island, and Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb, R-Canandaigua, in order to gain his support.

Paladino so far has not identified any one Republican whom he could support. But on the national level, he especially admires Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, a leading tea party figure in Washington.

“He carries real Republican values,” he said.

Paladino, 67, has assumed a huge role in Conservative affairs ever since Erie County Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo exercised a complicated set of maneuvers in 2010 to install Paladino as the party’s candidate for governor. In the Republican primary, Paladino trounced Rick Lazio, who had the backing of GOP leaders.

Without Lorigo’s machinations, the Conservatives may have never attracted the 50,000 statewide votes needed for a “permanent” presence on the ballot.

The party even leapfrogged back into its traditional spot as No. 3 on the ballot as a result of Paladino’s attraction to right-leaning voters.

Lorigo again is emerging as Paladino’s champion and is willing to see where the effort leads.

“If we put $2 million into the race, we could get Row B,” he said. “My request of Carl is just to ensconce us on Row C and then be the head of the right in New York.”

At stake are enormous consequences for the GOP, which has been part of New York’s power structure since before the Civil War. Depending on the results of the previous gubernatorial election, the two parties have switched Row A and Row B on the ballot periodically for all those years.

As a result, Democrats and Republicans have shared the resulting patronage at boards of elections in the 57 counties and New York City.

That could change if Paladino once again finances his own ideologically based campaign against powerful incumbent Cuomo and a weak, little-known and underfinanced Republican.

News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this report. email:

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