The departure of Gov. David A. Paterson from the gubernatorial race turns Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into the odds-on-favorite to become the Democratic nominee, most experts agree, likely to face former Rep. Rick Lazio of Long Island, currently the GOP's favorite to run against him.

"This means the party will coalesce around the candidacy of Andrew Cuomo very quickly," state Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said Friday, though Cuomo has yet to formally declare for the seat once held by his father.

But Paterson's decision also makes a potential wild-card gubernatorial bid by Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy even wilder. Just what Levy might do - if anything - is likely to be determined in the next few weeks.

Before Paterson withdrew, it looked like Levy might jump into a Democratic Party primary against the incumbent governor and Cuomo, hoping to squeak out a victory as a maverick taking advantage of a Paterson-Cuomo split and voter discontent with incumbent Albany politics.

But while experts said Paterson's departure has dashed that scenario, it may have opened the door for an even chancier prospect for Levy - seeking the Republican line against Cuomo.

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"If I do it, it'll be as a post-partisan candidate," Levy said Friday. "People don't care about parties, but more about who has the specific ideas to keep the state from unraveling."

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As a fiscal conservative fashioning himself as a maverick, Levy suggests he could be New York's version of Scott Brown, who pulled off a huge upset in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts in November. Levy's camp is expected to conduct a private poll in the next few weeks to test his viability - with his candidacy as a Republican as one scenario.

But Levy's view of his chances are viewed by many in both parties as far-fetched. Jacobs says he certainly doesn't want to see Levy run as a Republican.

"I think it's just a tremendously difficult uphill lift for someone to jump into a gubernatorial race, a statewide race," Jacobs said Friday. "I think that would be a mistake on his part, and I think there are things for him to look at some time later."

But recently, some in the GOP have wondered about Lazio's ability to raise enough money for a vigorous gubernatorial campaign. In January, he had only $637,356 in cash on hand - far from the $25 million or more that even his camp concedes is needed.

Lazio, however, says he's attracted a lot more money recently with the endorsement of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others.

"I'm confident we'll get enough money. All that matters in the end is whether you're right on the issues," Lazio said Friday.

With Dan Janison

Possible candidates for governor

Andrew Cuomo
He had raised $16 million for his bid, as of Janaury, and is the clear-cut favorite for the Democratic nod now that Gov. David A. Paterson has exited the race. But with Paterson gone, Cuomo is likely to face tougher scrutiny.

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Rick Lazio
The former Republican congressman from Brightwaters is the only declared major party candidate so far, and he’s garnered support from many leading GOP figures. But Lazio has lagged in fundraising, raising questions about his long-term chances in a gubernatorial bid against a well-funded candidate Cuomo.

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Steve Levy
The two-term Suffolk County Executive is a potential wild card in this race. Levy had considered entering a three-way primary race with Paterson and Cuomo. But now his camp says he could run under the GOP banner if Lazio looks like he can’t win. He has about $4 million in campaign money — but the price of such a long-shot bid might be alienating Democrats as well as Republicans.

Compiled by Thomas Maier