In his win over Rick Lazio, Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino seems to have ridden voter anger and tapped into their distrust of anything associated with the professional political establishment.
"If we've learned anything tonight it's that New Yorkers are as mad as hell. And we're not going to take it any more! And I'm here to thank you for choosing me as the Republican candidate of New York."
The immediate impact is one more giant headache for the New York State Republican Party, and the New York State Conservative Party. Both opposed Paladino in favor of Lazio. Paladino set up a rival party to the Conservative Party, called the Taxpayer Party. (Audio from Paladino's entire Election night speech is at the top of the page.)
Speaking of taxes, Paladino set himself a high bar for his first year in office.
"I'll cut taxes by 10 percent in the first six months of my administration. I'll cut spending by 20 percent and cut the size of our government by 20 percent. I'll cut medicaid by 20 billion dollars a year."
Paladino expressed nothing but hostility for the Republican Party and its leadership. But beneath that was a well-funded, somewhat undisciplined traditional outsider campaign that simply overwhelmed an under-funded Republican designee whom the Republican establishment never fully supported in the first place.
Former Rep. Rick Lazio’s fundraising never took off, thanks to the Republican Party leaders that had initially opposed Lazio, fearing he was too mild, too under-funded and simply not passionate enough to lead the ticket.
The State Republican Party never embraced Paladino, even when he was gaining on Lazio, and now face the awkward prospect of having to support his candidacy since he won their primary. Lazio – the choice of the Republican Party leadership – may continue his campaign on the Conservative Party line. Having a split between the GOP and Conservatives is a recipe for defeat in November, since no statewide Republican candidate has won in New York without unifiying both parties.
Then again, this isn’t like any year before.
Lazio’s strategy was to husband his resources by ignoring Paladino’s candidacy and raise his profile by earning attention via free media. Lazio went as far as to reject opportunities to debate Paladino, deeming it unnecessary.
Lazio got media attention when he spoke about the plans to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero, but not when he attacked Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo. For Paladino, the foul-mouthed, uncontrollable candidate, he got media attention for almost everything.
He sent workers in chicken suits to hound Cuomo; men in duck suits bothered Lazio. His plan to repurpose underutilized prisons as job retraining centers for welfare recipients was overshadowed by his comment about also offering “personal hygiene” lessons to those being retrained.
Icons of the New York Republican Party leadership had uniformly supported Lazio’s candidacy. Rudy Giuliani endorsed Lazio – in the basement of a midtown hotel right before New Year’s Eve, all but spelling the end of his own electoral career. Months later, former Governor George Pataki officially ended speculation he would enter the race, endorsing Lazio inside Grand Central Terminal right before the evening rush hour crowd headed home to the suburbs.
Paladino courted self-identified Tea Party voters – those angry about the economy, distrustful of professional politicians and seeking something entirely different. Lazio, though it was hard to remember at some points during the campaign, was actually a vestige of the more moderate Northeast Republican philosophy. Since leaving Congress, Lazio went to work on Wall Street, as a lobbyist for JP Morgan, tying him to Wall Street at a time when even Republicans were putting distance between themselves and the industry that soaked up billions of federal bailout money after the national economic collapse.
Some Tea Party organizations – like TeaParty365 based in Manhattan – were not allied with Paladino, and sought to block him from using the party’s name when he sought another line to run on in November. Paladino ended up creating the Taxpayer Line, which he and other candidates will appear on.