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Republicans roll the dice

Are we missing something here?

Is there a reason New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox believes his support of Steve Levy -- the Suffolk County executive and a Democrat -- will actually work?

Good questions -- with answers depending on your point of view.

Just a few short weeks ago, life was as it's supposed to be in the neat, orderly world of New York Republicans. Former Rep. Rick Lazio had emerged as the candidate for governor, and was lining up the all-important Conservative Party, too.

He had no money. Few voters remembered him even from his Senate run against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000. Even fewer expected him to beat Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Still, all was right with the world.

But Cox never bought into the program. The son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, Cox earlier this month tapped Democrat Levy as his choice for governor. That infuriated top Republicans like the chairmen of Essex, Orange and Putnam counties, who called on him to resign.

In addition, Chairman Jim Domagalski of Erie County made it abundantly clear he wants nothing to do with Democrats-turned-Republicans like former County Executive Joel Giambra. (We could employ the word anti-Christ to underscore the intensity of those sentiments, but others have taught us to eschew its usage).

Levy and Cox are not marching blindly. In addition to the chairman, seven of the party's 10 regional vice chairmen are also in Levy's camp. And while Domagalski may be dead set against Levy, he sure isn't backing Lazio -- at least for now.

Cox said late last week that he sees in Levy a Democrat who governed a county with a budget larger than those of 11 states -- and did so according to Republican principles. He also wants to win -- even if it means embracing a Democrat.

"In the end, we have to be inclusive or we're not going to win statewide offices," he said. "Steve Levy belongs in our tent."

Cox and even those on the fence express disappointment over Lazio's failure to generate any real enthusiasm or cash, opening the doors for Levy and Buffalo developer Carl Paladino -- an enrolled Republican who can find his own way onto the primary ballot. Levy, meanwhile, must persuade the majority of state committee members in order to run as a Republican.

Cattaraugus County Republican Chairwoman Paula Snyder seemed to sum up the GOP situation.

"The chairman has clearly introduced another candidate for consideration," she said last week. "I'm looking at that, and looking at Rick's somewhat tepid campaign."

So the strategy is this for Cox and Levy: keep nibbling around the edges until they reach the 50 percent mark.

None of this uncertainity can help Lazio's fund-raising, further muddying the situation. But he does have the all-important Conservative Party, which a few days ago bestowed the endorsement of party leaders that normally translates into nomination at the state convention. And for those keeping score at home, no Republican has won statewide office without Conservative backing since 1974.

Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo, who controls the largest bloc of weighted votes in the statewide party, is still pushing for Paladino. He says it ain't over till it's over.

Ditto with Levy supporters from Long Island controlling another big chunk of votes -- though state Conservative Chairman Mike Long usually gets his way.

It all adds up to a roll of the dice for the new boss of the state GOP. And at some point New York Republicans will know what place in history Cox will earn -- political genius or failed riverboat gambler.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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