The Conservative Party at a Crossroads

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Despite Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino's pounding of former Rep. Rick Lazio, Lazio's name is still set to appear on the fall ballot on the Conservative Party line.

A very upbeat Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long told WNYC that after talking with the former Congressman after his GOP defeat, he expects Lazio will embark on run "after a few well deserved days off."

The Conservative Party is at a crossroads. It was founded as a response to the liberal Republicanism of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Now, ironically, it's providing a ballot line refuge to Lazio, a pro-choice candidate rejected by Republicans for not being conservative enough.

This November, the Conservative Party's very existence is at stake. To keep its ballot line, the source of any party's clout, the party must receive at least 50,000 votes for governor on Election Day.

On primary night, Lazio was vague about whether he'd continue the fight. His spokesman refused to comment.

A Lazio bid could complicate Paladino's drive to coalesce both Republican and Conservative-minded voters behind him, as he faces an uphill battle with Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. As a practical matter, the election of a statewide candidate that ran only on the Conservative line is the political equivalent of seeing Halley's Comet. Back in 1970, Jim Buckley, brother of Bill Buckley, the conservative raconteur, won a U.S. Senate seat running on the Conservative line alone. Nobody has done it since.

For decades, successful Republican politicians like Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Alphonse D'Amato added hundreds of thousands of votes to their margin of victory by running on the Conservative Party line. By comparison, Conservative Party returns from the last couple of elections have been about half, or less, than the roughly 350,000 votes the Conservatives garnered when Pataki ran in 1998.

And there is competition in the wings. Paladino and Tea Party activists were busy this summer getting some ballot-access security. They filed with the state the required number of signatures to get yet another party line on the November ballot. And thus the Taxpayer's Party was born. Also debuting this November: City Councilman Charles Barron's Freedom Party.