The New York gubernatorial race is getting more interesting on the right. As expected, Conservative party leaders endorsed Rick Lazio this weekend, but their verdict doesn't guarantee him Row D this November. He doesn't become the party's official nominee until its convention takes place in June. At that time he will most likely face two challengers: Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive who defected from the Democratic party this past week and is also seeking the Republican nomination, and Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman who considers himself the true conservative of the three. He made his case in a YouTube video:
As far as social issues go, Paladino has the credentials. Both Lazio and Levy are pro-choice, by comparison. But it looks like Conservatives statewide aren't as hardcore as those in the state's 23rd Congressional district, who rebelled against a "too liberal" Republican anointee a few months ago. The majority of party leaders may envision a "big tent" approach that focuses narrowly on fiscal issues, though how the rank and file will respond to Lazio remains to be seen. There seems to be a perception among both Conservatives and Republicans that he's a "loser" due to his poor performance on short notice against Hillary Clinton in the 2000 Senate race. But if the only alternatives are a renegade Democrat and an untried businessman, Lazio may be the safe choice for both parties on the right.
Lazio himself is determined to run the race to the finish. He's said most recently that he will keep the Conservative line even if he loses the Republican nomination, threatening rightists with their nightmare scenario of a divided movement against a united Democracy. Lazio may well depend on that threat to cow Republicans into endorsing him. As nearly every news article reminds us, since the founding of the Conservative party no Republican has won statewide office without also getting the third party's endorsement. Of course, some Republicans have lost in spite of that endorsement, so no one should assume that transpartisan agreement guarantees victory for the rightists. Nor should anyone assume at this fluid moment in grass-roots politics that the "right" is as uniform as either Republicans or Conservatives want it to be. Voters who see themselves as "right" may be deciding now that fellow "rightists" are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Things will get really interesting if, instead of deciding that those problem people weren't really "right," people begin to realize that accepting the "right" (or "left") label has burdened them with problems all along.
Note: For what it's worth, I found it impossible to access the Lazio campaign site today. Whether this is due to high traffic, ordinary techinical difficulties or sabotage is impossible to know right now.