Much like no-limit Texas Hold ’em poker and hermit crab racing, politics is a game where you are rarely offered a second chance these days. Perennial candidates in national or statewide races — a regular feature in America through the first half of the 20th century — have been largely driven toward extinction by a prevailing political wind which banishes losers to the gulag of the Trivial Pursuit realm.
Out here in New York, though, Rick Lazio is looking to break that mold and make another grab at the brass ring by tossing his hat in the ring for the 2010 governor’s race.
Lazio has made no public announcement and [spokesman Barney] Keller said the former congressman from Long Island is still deciding when to make the decision formal. Lazio has formed a campaign committee and his website is soliciting contributions.
“This campaign will be about the future of New York and what kind of New York we want our children and grandchildren to inherit,” Lazio says on the website.
I was a volunteer for Lazio’s last campaign, and I’ve already sent off a letter indicating my interest in participating again. In the midst of a season of doom and gloom where most of the media is writing obituaries for the Republican Party, Lazio’s prospects may not be as bleak as some observers might believe.
Governor David Paterson has already indicated his intention to run for a full term of his own and, rumors to the contrary, Andrew Cuomo may be loathe to challenge him in a primary. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Paterson’s approval numbers are currently running well south of both Nancy Pelosi and Dick Cheney. (Though to be fair, he is still widely regarded as being more popular than Iranian President Ahmadinejad by a margin of at least four to seven points.)
Lazio’s numbers are a bit more hazy, primarily because voters outside of his former congressional district still know very little about him. A closer look at his background, however, may set their minds at ease. He served a stint representing New York’s second district from 1993 until 2001. During that time he quickly rose to the position of the GOP’s deputy majority whip and assistant majority leader.
His position as chairman of the House Banking Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity may also be a feather in his cap, given some of the highest priorities for New York voters today. Prior to his time in Congress he was also the assistant district attorney for Suffolk County and served in the county legislature.
Given the recent surge in independent voter registration, particularly in the Northeast, Lazio may also generate some interest among the unaffiliated moderates. His campaign against Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate generated very little in the way of both interest and funding from the old money power brokers in the Hudson Valley. (This, in itself, is fairly unusual since they will typically throw money at anyone from either party who stands even a remote chance of winning.) Given the recent turmoil in the state legislature, credentials as a candidate who is outside of Albany machine politics should play well.
Lazio is unlikely to generate a lot of buzz and enthusiasm at the national level, being far more in the “RINO” mold and somewhat typical of New York Republicans in general. Still, this is precisely the type of person the GOP needs to promote in the Empire State. We just don’t elect Bible Belt social conservatives out in this neck of the woods.
Will the state party forgive Lazio’s failure to stop Hillary Clinton nine years ago? Unlike other “failed” attempts by candidates, it’s going to be hard to hold Lazio’s feet to the fire on that one. The entire party was positive that Rudy Giuliani would be running, and Rick was thrust onto the stage with only a few months to go when America’s mayor withdrew himself from consideration following bad news about his health and a controversial divorce dust-up.
Getting any Republican elected to the Senate at that time would have been an uphill battle, but the Democrats had brought in nothing short of their very own rock star. Hillary arrived in New York with a war chest in the tens of millions and an approval rating which mysteriously never dipped below 60 percent. Lazio mounted a very spirited campaign, criss-crossing the state, knocking on doors and wearing out the shoe leather required for a campaign with a financial gas tank running on fumes.
Even with the odds stacked against him that heavily, Rick still managed to capture 43 percent of the vote. Paterson’s star power isn’t in the same ballpark as the former first lady and his administration’s bungling of the state budget makes it unlikely that he’d even win a primary if a serious challenge were brought forward.
Second chances may be coming back into vogue, at least in the Northeast. Lazio should have little trouble grabbing the nomination if he thrusts himself out front this early. If it actually does turn into a race against the current governor, this bluest of blue states could find itself with not only the executive branch but the state senate back in Republican hands in November 2010.