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Paladino heads for crucial meeting Hopes to win over Conservative leaders

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Carl P. Paladino travels to Brooklyn today to meet with state Conservative Party leaders in a bid to wrest the often-crucial line from GOP rival Rick Lazio.

Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo said he will accompany the Buffalo attorney and encourage state Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long to consider Paladino's candidacy. Lorigo said he sees little evidence that Lazio -- the presumed Republican candidate for governor -- is exciting voters and fears that Lazio's name on the Conservative line will once again doom the party to the fourth position on the ballot.

"I'll tell Mike that if you don't listen to Paladino, the organized 'tea party' types will take away from the Conservative Party on Election Day," Lorigo said. "Where are we going to end up then?"

Paladino said last week in a letter to state Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox that he is a "breath away" from declaring his GOP candidacy and that he also could run on a minor "tea party" line.

Lorigo said Lazio is "not setting the world on fire." He noted that Lazio reported only $626,000 in contributions to the state Board of Elections in January, while Paladino has pledged up to $10 million of his own money.

He predicted that the sometimes-fiery Paladino could inspire the most conservative voters, especially those linked to the tea party movement that helped elect Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts in January.

"It's very important for Conservatives to run a strong candidate who will address conservative issues," Lorigo said. "If we go with Paladino, we could end up being back on the third line on the ballot.

The Independence Party, expected to eventually back Democratic Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo for governor, now occupies the critical third line on the ballot -- behind the Democrats and Republicans. Occupying the third line is considered extremely beneficial as the state's "major minor party."

Lorigo said he likes Lazio but fears he has not been able to "delineate a clear message."

"He's not answering the specifics of what's needed today. He should be breaking the furniture," Lorigo said. "There's no question that if Carl gets there, he'll do it."

The Lazio campaign, however, painted a far different picture in a memo to supporters from campaign manager Kevin Fullington obtained by The Buffalo News. It noted last week's endorsements from major figures such as former Gov. George E. Pataki and several former Republican congressmen and that the campaign now counts two-thirds of the state committee's weighted vote.

Fullington said Pataki has turned over access to his fundraising lists, while former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has agreed to send a fundraising letter on Lazio's behalf and to host a major fundraiser May 12.

He also noted that Lazio has picked up in some polls against Cuomo.

"We are well on our way to becoming the Republican and Conservative nominee for governor of New York," Fullington told supporters.

Losing the Conservative line would prove a major blow to Lazio's already underdog effort. No Republican has won statewide office in New York without Conservative Party backing since the late Sen. Jacob K. Javits in 1974.

Lorigo said he hopes to persuade the state chairman to delay a gubernatorial endorsement, which is tentatively on the Conservative agenda for Saturday.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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