Inside the War Room

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Cuomo vs. Paladino will be a real barnburner

By Alan S. Chartock

OK, let’s play war games—Paladino versus Cuomo. You are sitting around the war room table in both camps.

If you are Andrew, do you debate? (Not unless Paladino is coming on strong and then only very early or very late in the game.) Do you fight back against dirty ads? (Yes, you answer his stuff before it begins to stick to you, especially if he is vulnerable to many of the same charges.) Do you take him seriously even though he seems to be a clown? (You bet you do, considering how he decimated his opponent in the Republican primary.)

If you are Paladino, you also have decisions to make. Do you keep throwing rotten eggs in every direction? (Hey, it’s worked up until now.) Do you keep making pledges you can’t possibly keep, like cutting taxes to the bone and putting term limits on state legislators? (Yes, even though you know full well that the Legislature is not about to help you.) Do you keep attacking programs for the poor and educational programs? (Of course you do, that’s what got you this far.) Do you attack the press who are attacking you? (Yep, polls show that people hold the press in very low regard, somewhere around the level of skunks and dangerous reptiles. Plus, what do you have to lose? They’re all against you anyway.)

Andrew’s father, Mario, once told me that the mark of a great politician is the ability to think six moves ahead.

“Anyone can think one or two moves in advance,” said Cuomo the Elder, “but you’ve got to be good to think six moves ahead.” He went on to explain that if someone hits you, you’ve got to decide whether to hit back, and if he hits you again and again, you have to figure out what your strategy should be.

Of course, there are imponderables in all of this. What the political scientists call “intervening variables” will dictate how you conduct your political war. In this run-off, the intervening variables are just how angry the electorate is and just how amused they are by Paladino. I know from interviewing him on several occasions that the man has no real boundaries and he will do whatever he can to win. He is capable of playing fast and loose with the truth. Of course, he isn’t the only politician to do that.

Since he declared his candidacy, Paladino has hit a nerve with the major New York City dailies. To put it mildly, they don’t like him. The Daily News ran a full-page headline: “Meet Crazy Carl.” The Post seems to have reached an agreement with Cuomo and has unleashed their top political guns against Paladino. The New York Times editorialized in favor of the Republican establishment Lazio, who was soundly, overwhelmingly and unpredictably (the polls got it all wrong) beaten. So what’s going on?

First and foremost, everyone believes that the government is broken and needs to be fixed. The middle class perceives that it is being screwed and they respond negatively to the idea that the poor are being helped. They see themselves as paying for things like Medicaid programs that benefit others. Because the middle class votes, you can expect the Paladino war room geniuses to capitalize on that discontent. Sure, the poor vote too, but their numbers are not enough to carry an election. Thus, the poor become Paladino’s target.

Then there is racism, which goes hand in hand with the anti-poor message. When a candidate puts out an email with racist messages, gets caught and defends himself by saying that he was “…only passing it on,” you had better consider the possibility that he damned well knew what he was doing. The only other possible alternative was that he was just stupid. This multi- multi- multi-millionaire didn’t gain his wealth by being stupid.

So why did the pollsters get it wrong when they predicted that the Paladino-Lazio Republican primary was too close to call? When you are a candidate of hate, many people won’t tell the truth to their pollster or their mother. They may like Paladino, but they know better than to say it out loud. That’s going to be a challenge for the Cuomo forces. For his part, Andrew continues to move right on the political spectrum. He is saying all the politically fashionable things about government spending. The question is whether people will believe him or whether they will see him as Mario II. Look for his ads to differentiate between him and Papa.

This is gonna be a humdinger.

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Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.

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