It's time for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice to get off the fence if she plans to make a successful run at the job of state attorney general, political observers said Friday.

Rice has cast her political fortunes alongside those of current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, insisting up to now she will not throw her hat into the ring unless he runs for governor.

But with Cuomo all but certain to run now that Gov. David A. Paterson has abandoned his election campaign, some Democrats said Friday that Rice, who has formed an exploratory committee, needs to openly declare her intentions now. Some of them met Rice on her recent upstate trip to seek support for her fledgling campaign.

Albany County Legis. Timothy Nichols, who's leaning toward supporting Rice, said Friday it's now-or-never time for her. Nichols and others say upstate is important for Rice because she can pick up new supporters.

"It's pretty clear that Andrew Cuomo is going to run for governor," Nichols said. "I would suggest any candidate interested in his current post should get active right now. . . . The more time you have to reach out and talk to people, the better."

Eric Phillips, Rice's political spokesman, said she won't be rushed. "There will be a time for political discussions as the election year unfolds . . . but the time for that discussion is not now," he said after Paterson's announcement. He said Rice and Cuomo are working together "to implement and advocate for policies that affect New Yorkers across the state."

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Shawn Hogan, the Steuben County Democratic Committee chairman, said Rice "is probably the least known entity upstate of all the attorney general candidates."

"There will be more people running for attorney general than inhabit some small counties in upstate New York," Hogan said. "She can finally declare herself and move forward."

Rice could face competition from Assemb. Richard Brodsky, former federal prosecutor Sean Coffey, state Sen. Eric Schneiderman and former insurance commissioner Eric Dinallo. Coffey and Dinallo have declared their candidacies.

Buffalo's Denise O'Donnell has been mentioned as a candidate. She resigned as state commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services this week in response to the Paterson administration's handling of an aide's domestic violence case.