Levy: 'No regrets' over GOP primary attempt

In the end Wednesday, even a gallery packed with placard-waving tea party activists chanting "Let the people vote!" wasn't enough to persuade most of New York's Republican committee to let Steve Levy run for governor on their primary ballot.

Instead, as the delegate roll call spooled out, it became clear Republicans just weren't ready to embrace the party-switching Suffolk County executive, thanks to aggressive delegate lobbying by the Lazio camp - and a visceral distaste for the idea that their 2010 ticket could be led by a man who had supported Barack Obama for president.

"If Steve Levy wants a primary, he can do it in the Democratic Party," shouted one delegate from Queens, which Levy's campaign had once claimed among his supporters.

It was clear coming into this convention that Levy could not hope for the majority support he had envisioned when he entered the race 10 weeks ago, at a news conference flanked by most of the party's senior leadership. State chairman Ed Cox, who had endorsed him, had gauged his support this week "in the 40s," though other estimates had put it closer to 30 percent. What Levy needed, at a minimum, was 25 percent naming him their candidate - and a majority willing, on a second ballot, to approve his entering a party primary against former Rep. Rick Lazio.

Cox had urged a primary as a way for the "grassroots" to revitalize Republicans, who hold no statewide offices. And the Levy camp was banking that several counties would follow the example of Queens Republicans, who announced last week that while they were switching to conservative Republican Myers Mermel, they would vote to allow Levy to enter a primary.

"Don't let the ways of the past render this party a closed clubhouse," Suffolk GOP leader John Jay LaValle urged the delegates.

"There are many who are counting on us."But as the voting started, it was evident Lazio's political director, Lynn Krogh, had been more effective in peeling delegates away from the Levy camp than Levy's backers had been in robbing Lazio. The biggest surprise was Albany County, whose chairman had stood with Levy at his announcement. Nassau chairman Joseph Mondello, said Wednesday that he, too, had talked Levy delegates into switching.

"I told people we need a real Republican," Mondello said.

Albany came through for Levy on the second vote to allow him to run in a Republican primary. But Levy's weak direct support - less than 29 percent - seemed to trigger a reversion to the tradition for which Republicans are better known. It's Democrats who have the messy primaries and Republicans who fall into place and march out of their conventions united. So even some counties that had voted to designate Levy for county executive - Oswego and most of Genesee - refused to put him in on the primary ballot.

Levy attributed the loss to his late entry into the race.

"To come into this at a point where someone else had been for the whole year courting these people at their kitchen tables, and then have to flip them in a matter of three months [is] a really, really tough mountain to climb," he said after the vote. "But the fact that we got this close . . . was a great accomplishment. So no regrets at all."

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