These days the Democrats haven't gotten much cheery news around the country. But, New York State is a different story thanks to the Republican candidate for Governor, Carl Paladino. They say that every cloud has a silver lining and, now, that silver lining is Paladino.
It has been four short weeks since this obscure western New York real estate developer landed on the greater New York political stage with a very loud thud. Riding a crest of upstate unhappiness, Paladino was able to capitalize on the regional misery and knock off Rick Lazio, the chosen candidate of the Republican Party, in an intra-party contest.
Almost overnight Paladino has managed to get into every newspaper and get his share of face time on almost all of the state's television stations. Wherever you look there has been a Paladino sighting. The local tabloids have been consumed with stories about Paladino, his family, his run-ins with reporters and even the restaurants that he visits in the Buffalo area. Now, however, the "angry" vote that he once relied on may have turned against him, especially in light of his recent gay bashing.
At first glance Democratic Party officials were stunned when a post-primary poll showed Paladino within six points of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in the race for governor. Other polls days later showed that the margin was much bigger, but the first poll shocked the state Democratic Party into understanding that the coming election is not a coronation but a contest. There is a restless electorate out there whose actions are unpredictable and, coupled with the usual stay at home voters, this has all the makings of a very close contest. But is that really the case?
If you follow his daily comments, starting with his latest diatribe on gays and gay marriage, it could well be that Paladino is the best thing that has ever happened to New York Democrats since FDR. If the voting public starts paying close attention to Paladino and his actions, it could wake up a whole army of sleeping Democrats who tend to stay home in non-presidential years and turn off moderate Republicans.
Paladino is a dream opponent for any Democratic rival. He says what he thinks as soon as the thought crosses his mind, and some of his comments reflect no thought at all. He has managed to insult most of the voters in the five boroughs of New York City and hasn't endeared himself to the suburbs.
His positions on things like abortion, welfare recipients, illegal immigrants, homosexuals, and kids who don't do well in school are beginning to catch the attention of not just the radical right, but reasonable people who value their vote and use it carefully. Yes, there are some unhappy folks out on the street who are hurting economically, but they are not morons.
New Yorkers have elected Republican mayors, governors, attorney generals and U.S. Senators. They pick and choose very carefully and jump from party to party if they like the candidate. They rarely embrace candidates that are provocative, angry and lacking any positive programs and you can't get elected on anger alone.
It's one thing to say that you are going to use a baseball bat to straighten out the crowd in Albany, but after you have bashed them in the head, what are you going to do next? Threatening to put the Speaker of the Assembly in Attica prison may be a crowd pleaser in some towns, but then what happens in Albany?
The real test of Carl Paladino's electability will come in the next few weeks. How many rank and file Republicans will speak up for him? How many prominent politicians from his party will pose with him for a publicity photo? How many more stories will there be in the media highlighting Paladino's latest attack on someone or something? And, most recently, can a simple apology relieve him of the damage caused by his anti-gay remarks?
New York's Democrats are being hurt by the same blame that Democrats are now dealing with around the country: the economy is still flat and unemployment hasn't gone down. Yet Carl Paladino could turn out to be the gift that keeps on giving, with New York State Democrats from Congress down to local offices as the main beneficiaries.