Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hammond's Tea Leaves

In this morning's NY Daily News, Bill Hammond rakes Carl Paladino over the coals and sees the Tea Party favorite as a Republican albatross in November: "Carl Paladino loves to bluster about going after Albany's powerbrokers with a baseball bat, but the only thing he's likely to beat to a pulp is the state GOP's credibility. Or what's left of it, anyway. Paladino's brand of ill-informed Tea Party rage sold well with the minority of Republicans who turned out for Tuesday's primary, letting him humiliate a lackluster Rick Lazio. But it spells almost certain disaster for his fellow Republicans in November - and beyond."

We respectfully demur-and actually can see the loose cannon as a potent weapon, particularly when it comes to who controls the pivotal state senate. Lazy Boy Lazio was simply an embarrassment-as well as a dead weight that would have brought absolutely zero energy to Republicans in the general election. With Paladino, the base will be activated-as can be seen by the disparity between Republican and Democratic turnout in yesterday's primary.

Liz Benjamin has the numbers: "Political number-crunching expert Jerry Skurnik sent the following information in an e-mail this morning: “With 92% of EDs reporting, turnout for Dem AG is 591,833, which probably means an overall turnout of @13%. GOP Gov Primary has 439,555, which probably mean(s) @18%. This is consistent with national trend of Republican Primary turnout being much better this year than Dem turnout.” (Greg David makes the same point today)

Think of those senate districts now controlled by Democrats-both upstate and on Long Island-that are extremely vulnerable. Paladino will resonate with many of those voters, and the enthusiasm gap may well spell the difference between victory and defeat for Senators Valesky, Aubertine , Foley and Johnson-and perhaps even Oppenheimer. If Paladino does nothing else but ramp up the GOP vote in those districts, he will have made the Hammond disaster prediction look really foolish.

But what about the candidate himself? Is he so wacky that he will doom Wilson and Donovan in their respective races for Comptroller and AG? Hammond thinks so: "Because the reckless statements, hollow promises and dumb ideas that have been coming from the Buffalo millionaire's mouth mean his GOP running mates will have to spend the next seven weeks fending off questions about his every outrage and gaffe. "He will be extremely harmful to the party," says Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist not involved in any New York races. "You're going to see a lot of people extremely turned off by the Republican brand because of him. . . . And candidates running down ballot will be forced to distance themselves."

This remains to be seen-and we don't know Del Percio's work, but there's a lot of establishment Republicans that are looking quite silly after yesterday. And Hammond mentions a few of Paladino's comments-some are naive and others are a little off the wall or offensive-that he believes will turn the top of the ticket into political Ebola. One in particular caught our eye: "The lowest of the lows was his demagogic scheme to block construction of an Islamic center in lower Manhattan - which he slurred as a "monument to those who attacked our country" - by seizing the property through eminent domain. He managed to violate decency and two clauses of the Bill of Rights in a single blow."

Perhaps Paladino's statement wasn't as felicitous as we would have expressed the way in which the GZM is an anathema to 63% of New Yorkers (52% in NYC!); but given the widespread revulsion against the site, it's hard to see how this view will be a fatal thorn in the side of down ballot candidates-and we kinda like the idea of using eminent domain for the entire area around the proposed mosque (including the strip joints)

And Hammond didn't address the fact that Paladino will get under Andrew Cuomo's skin-and perhaps provoke a debate that will be good for the voters. Certainly, with Lazio at the top of the ticket, Cuomo could have simply taken the next two months off-now we're not so sure.

But Hammond clearly is certain of Paladino's toxicity: "This stuff puts common-sense Republicans like controller candidate Harry Wilson and would-be attorney general Dan Donovan in a bind - not to mention Republicans hoping to retake the state Senate. Do they embrace the Tea Party wackadoo at the top of their ticket or run the other way? Maybe this train wreck will wake Republicans to the dangers of self-financed candidates. Without his personal fortune - and the unfettered ability to blow millions on consultants and campaign ads - Paladino would never have become the standard-bearer for the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller. In all likelihood, he'd be just another blow-hard on a Buffalo barstool."

Well, we guess that's why we have horse races-and on November 2nd, when the sacred gin mill closes, we'll see who's a bigger fool; and whether Paladino or Hammond will end up on his back and not his stool (with apologies to Muhammad Ali)