Janison: GOP party designees far from sure thing

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at her office Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at her office in Washington DC. (Feb. 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New

Members of the New York Republican State Committee will meet Friday in Rochester to consider a potential U.S. Senate nominee. When they do, the wisest observers will bear in mind how many statewide candidates have won in the convention hall only to lose at the primary polls.

Exhibit A: The state GOP convention, New York City, June 2010.

Five candidates emerged from this widely watched gathering as the clearly preferred, banner-carrying, so-called designees of the GOP organization for statewide office.

While two won uncontested nominations, three other "designees" -- those who drew more than half the weighted convention vote -- didn't make it to the general election. Instead, they lost primary contests to fellow Republicans.

Two of these 2010 convention favorites even lost to rivals who'd been forced to gather petitions to get on the ballot because they failed at the convention to reach the 25 percent needed for automatic ballot placement.

In one case, Bruce Blakeman, the former Nassau legislative leader, emerged from the convention as the preferred Senate candidate for the special election against incumbent Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Blakeman then lost a three-way September primary to ex-Rep. Joe DioGuardi, who had received a mere 17.8 percent of the convention vote. For his part, Rick Lazio, the former Suffolk congressman, and convention "designee," lost the primary to Carl Paladino, who'd won only 8 percent at the convention.

Remember Gary Berntsen of Suffolk? He was the 2010 convention's designated challenger against incumbent Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, but then lost a primary to Jay Townsend -- who was spared the petition route by getting 38 percent of the convention vote.

All five of the eventual GOP nominees, including Dan Donovan for attorney general and Harry Wilson for comptroller, lost in the November election (Wilson by a very small margin).

Now, less than two years later -- in an early nomination process forced by a June primary -- the questions of party designation, weighted votes, ballot access, and primaries return to the fore.

Rep. Robert Turner (R-Rockaway Point) suddenly jumped into the Senate nomination fray yesterday against Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, Manhattan lawyer Wendy Long and Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin -- which could reshuffle some of the candidate shares of the delegate vote that were expected leading up to this week.

For Republicans, the 2010 experience also reinforces the leverage wielded by the state Conservative Party in their intramural contests. As a result, a lot of attention Tuesday was paid to state Conservative chairman Michael Long's statements to the effect that Turner -- a social acquaintance of Long's -- was joining the race too late and that Wendy Long (no relation) had already succeeded in locking up support from many of his party's leaders.

The Conservatives convene in Manhattan on Monday.

Decades ago, on the Democratic side, designees seemed to lose big primaries so often that some insiders began wondering if convention preference had become a counterproductive curse.

The most recent GOP nomination fights show anew how sharply the collective judgment of the party organization and the mood of the interested rank-and-file can part ways.

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