The Conservative Party hasn't been this hot since Ronald Reagan was president of the United States and Margaret Thatcher the prime minister of Britain.

At the center of the heat is Michael Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, and a supporter of former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio.

Long is under pressure from the Nassau and Suffolk arms of the party, and others, to defer a vote and give them a chance to push Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who switched from Democratic enrollment Friday and announced his GOP candidacy.

"I don't envy him. Mike is in a very tough position," Paul Kosowski, a Conservative from Nassau County, said Friday. "Neither candidate is a true Conservative, but both have some positions that make them attractive to Conservatives."

Long said late Friday that nothing has changed, and he will press ahead Saturday during the party's meeting in Brooklyn to have the state executive committee vote for Lazio, which would effectively give Lazio the Conservative nomination.

"I'm not changing any gears. I believe Rick Lazio is going to be the nominee," Long said. "I have been told by Mr. Levy's supporters in my party that if he does not get the nomination, they will return to the fold, and I have no reason to doubt that."

But Edward M. Walsh, the vice chairman of the state Conservative Party and head of Suffolk conservatives, continued his push for Levy.

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"Rick Lazio is a wonderful guy, but he doesn't have a plan," Walsh said. "He can't get it done. Steve Levy has a plan and will bring change to Albany."

Walsh noted that not only Levy, but Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino were seeking the backing of Republicans and Conservatives - in addition to Lazio. "We need someone to step in and change Albany. I believe Steve Levy is that person," Walsh said.

Roger Bogsted, head of the Nassau County Conservative Party, said he had given his proxy to Walsh, and that he hoped Long and others on the executive committee could be dissuaded from acting until they could make the case for Levy.

Levy acknowledged Friday the uphill battle faced by any New York GOP candidate for governor not also backed by the Conservative Party.

"It's certainly more difficult for any Republican candidate to win without a Conservative endorsement," Levy said. "You don't want to have that kind of split vote."

"It's my hope the Conservatives will have an open mind," he said. "I believe that my record of fiscal conservatism and plan to change New York will prevail."

With Rick Brand