POLITICS
02/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Paterson Lost Chance To Eliminate His Major Political Threat

Talking to New York political observers these past few days, one gets the sense that the process of filling Hillary Clinton's Senate seat was something akin to a circular firing squad. None of the principal figures came out looking good, save, perhaps, Kirsten Gillibrand.

The types of embarrassments are different for each individual involved. Caroline Kennedy's abrupt exit from the political stage spurred questions about her private life and why she ever got into this saga in the first place.

"I don't think there was ever a come-to-Jesus moment with her," said one well-connected Democrat. "I get the sense that no one took her aside and said: 'This is a dirty business. You might get a bit of a bump because of your lineage, but people will come after you."

For David Paterson, the problems created by the Senate replacement process may be far more lasting. Postponing the decision until Clinton was confirmed, and speaking frequently in public about his deliberations on the matter, helped turn the process into a circus. And having floated various reasons for Kennedy's withdrawal, he engendered the animosity of that family's myriad political backers. But the greatest misstep may end up being Paterson's failure to remove the major threat to his own political future.

Andrew Cuomo, New York's attorney general, was reportedly passed over for the Senate seat because favoring the Cuomo family over the Kennedy clan was seen as impolitic. And while sources insist that Cuomo is not thrilled about, or at this time interested in, running against Paterson in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, a new poll out shows the window of opportunity widening.

"Governor David Paterson's lead over Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in a potential 2010 gubernatorial primary fell from 23 points in December to just two points today," reads a Siena Research Institute study out on Monday. "For the first time since May, Cuomo has a better favorable/unfavorable rating than Paterson..."

Many factors catalyzed the drop in Paterson's numbers, including budget issues that have plagued New York. But the Senate selection process clearly played a role. If there is a silver lining for the Governor, it is that his favorability ratings are still very strong, and it's hard to see Cuomo mounting a primary challenge without more political dissatisfaction creating a path in that direction.

"Paterson has a 60-23 percent favorable rating, down slightly from 63-22 percent last month. Cuomo has a 64-17 percent favorable rating (up from 59-24 percent last month), his highest ever in a Siena Poll. Giuliani's favorable rating is up to 59-33 percent, from last month's 50-43 percent."