How the GOP Wooed Suozzi

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The New York Sun

Governor Pataki did try, and failed, to make a Republican out of Thomas Suozzi, the Nassau County executive – a Democrat who is running for governor as a Long Island long shot.

Two of Mr. Pataki’s closest confidantes approached Mr. Suozzi earlier this year and promised fund-raising help if he joined the GOP. Mr. Suozzi immediately ruled out the idea of leaving the Democratic Party. Mr. Pataki himself was not directly involved in the effort. This all comes from Republican sources familiar with the failed efforts to make a play for Mr. Suozzi.

Mr. Pataki’s interest was based on a shrewd political calculation that Mr. Suozzi’s pedigree – Catholic, Italian, suburban – would make him a stronger statewide contender than the actual Republican candidates. “He stacks up better in all the demographic ways,” said one Republican source. Add to that Mr. Suozzi’s fiscal conservatism and nuanced take on abortion, and Mr. Pataki’s crew saw a Republican heir-in-the-making.

These details should provide clarity on reports of a Pataki-Suozzi deal that have circulated around the state capital for weeks. All sides could honestly deny a Suozzi surprise was in the works this week because the deal had already disintegrated.

“No comment,” Mr. Suozzi said yesterday. “I don’t want to encourage any further discussion on this topic. I am running as a Democrat in the Democratic primary for governor.” Mr. Suozzi’s evasiveness is understandable because the attempted courtship doesn’t exactly help him among the Democratic faithful, who wince at any candidate Republicans deem worthy of flirtation.

“That rumor is the worst thing that could happen to Suozzi because it won’t help him in a Democratic primary,” said the chairman of the state’s Democratic party, Assemblyman Herman “Denny” Farrell, who supports Mr. Spitzer.

The recent speculation was fueled by Mr. Pataki’s unwillingness to name a favorite in the Republican primary and by party leaders’ inability to coalesce around a candidate in the run-up to this month’s party convention.

A former Massachusetts governor, William Weld, was widely considered the Republican frontrunner last year when he launched his effort to become just the second person in American history to serve as governor of two states. (The other was Sam Houston, who was governor of Tennessee and then Texas.) But Mr. Weld’s campaign was quickly thrown off balance by questions about his leadership of Decker College, a Kentucky trade school. While Mr. Weld is not accused of any wrongdoing, his personal financial stake in the school put him uncomfortably close to an unresolved scandal.

Mr. Weld’s lackluster fundraising and failure to rack up expected endorsements from friends like Rudolph Giuliani has allowed John Faso, a former Assemblyman from the Hudson Valley, to mount a strong challenge. They have been running neck-and-neck in recent polls, and Mr. Faso enjoys the significant support of the state’s Conservative Party and its chairman, Michael Long.

Mr. Long is apparently one of the reasons why Mr. Pataki has refrained from backing Mr. Weld – as Mr. Long has been a loyal Pataki supporter since the name Pataki meant nothing outside the Hudson Valley. Working in Mr. Weld’s favor is his alliance with state’s top fundraiser, Cathy Blaney, who worked her warchest-generating magic on all of Mr. Pataki’s statewide campaigns and is a key part of his early presidential efforts.

While Mr. Suozzi descends from a prominent Democratic family in Nassau County – where he is currently the county executive – he would have a better chance of winning the election if he switched parties. The Democratic frontrunner, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, enjoys nearly unanimous support among the party’s leaders and has a gargantuan fundraising advantage. Mr. Suozzi isn’t even bothering to attend this month’s party convention because he can’t win the 25% needed for an automatic spot on the ballot.

Mr. Suozzi is certainly an attractive candidate for governor. There are many reasons why the Democrat could lead this state, perhaps should lead this state. There are even more reasons why that isn’t going to happen this year.

Postscript: Don’t be surprised if Mr. Pataki’s people deny all this. They also denied my report a year ago that he wouldn’t run for a fourth term but would explore running for president.

Mr. Goldin’s column appears regularly.

The New York Sun

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