Political Action: Cuomo-Paladino race mirrors that of Johnson-Goldwater

By William Lewis

In the 38th state Assembly District in western Queens, the Democratic assemblyman who represents the district, Michael Miller, had both good and bad news regarding the results of the primaries Sept. 14. In this district, which is on the Brooklyn-Queens border and includes parts of Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Glendale and Ridgewood, he faced primaries that day in both the Democratic and Conservative parties.

He did well in the Democratic primary by defeating community activist Nick Comaianni by a decisive margin, but lost the Conservative primary by a considerable margin to the Republican candidate, Donna Caltabiano.

The votes in these two primary elections were cast in different ways. In the Democratic primary, it was conducted in the usual way by registered members of the Democratic Party casting their votes using printed ballots. In the Conservative Party, however, the election consisted of an opportunity to ballot write-in primary. Miller’s name was on the ballot, but anyone voting for Caltabiano had to write her name on the ballot.

Miller was slightly ahead of Caltabiano in voting machine votes, but it was in absentee votes that the results were decided, with Caltabiano receiving 41 absentee votes and Miller obtaining only one. In essence, the registered Conservatives of the 38th Assembly District rejected the county-designated candidate — Miller — and chose Caltabiano through the primary process.

Miller is now running as the candidate for both the Democratic and Independence parties. He also has the Working Families Party’s endorsement. Being the candidate of the Working Families Party hurt him in the Conservative primary. Caltabiano, who during the special election last year against Miller ran on the Republican line, will now be running as the candidate for both the Republican and Conservative parties.

As for the race for governor, between Democratic state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino, it is becoming intensely confrontational. Paladino has been criticized for his style of attacks on Cuomo and other leading Democratic office holders, especially Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

It can be said that few political activists working on the gubernatorial campaign thought Paladino could win the Republican primary, considering Rick Lazio held a firm lead during most of the primary race. It was even more surprising when Paladino won the primary by a landslide.

A comparison can be made between Paladino and the late Republican U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona who, when he ran for president against Democrat Lyndon Johnson in 1964, experienced a similar situation. Goldwater had a habit of making unorthodox comments about important political issues, which some of the news media characterized as extreme. One thing Goldwater said throughout his campaign was that he was offering “the American people a choice, not an echo.” Some voters thought he was offering too much of a choice.

Like Paladino, who faced Lazio in the Republican primary, Goldwater faced then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in the state primaries leading to the Republican nomination for president. The most important primary turned out to be in California. In that race, Goldwater spent most of his efforts in the conservative areas of southern California and won a decisive victory over Rockefeller, who did well in the liberal parts of northern California. Rockefeller, however, lost the state primary to Goldwater, who became the presidential nominee.

After that, Johnson went on to win the national election against Goldwater by a landslide. It remains to be seen if a similar situation unfolds between Paladino and Cuomo or if Paladino can implement a last-minute comeback.

It can only be speculated how the gubernatorial race would have turned out if Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had become the nominee of the Republican Party against Cuomo. Levy has a strong base of political support in Suffolk County and fund-raising capability. He has considerable experience in government at the local and state levels, but Lazio supporters prevailed this year at the Republican state convention.

This year’s voting patterns seem to be changing as we move forward in the election process and a tremendous amount of interest in the 2010 election is developing among the American people.

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