ALBANY, N.Y. - ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democratic Gov. David Paterson has launched a multimillion dollar, statewide TV ad campaign — the first in the 2010 governor's race.
The ads portray him as a man who overcame blindness as a child and who, as governor, did the right thing by making tough fiscal decisions, even if it hurt him politically. Paterson also acknowledges he's made some mistakes as governor.
Even Paterson's only announced opponent, Republican Rick Lazio, liked the ads. But he said Friday that while the ads highlight views that are often admirable, what Paterson says is usually far better than what he delivers.
Using the slogan, "Governor Paterson: The People First," the initial ad acknowledges that many Democrats feel Paterson, mired in historic low poll numbers, shouldn't run for a full term next year. The ad states he's taken a political bruising for taking on unions, business and the Legislature to cut spending.
"It might have been easier if all I thought about was running for governor, but I think it's more important to do what's right for the people of New York," Paterson said firmly, seated next to a fireplace with an American flag and grandfather clock in the background.
The second is a brief biography of Paterson, who has been legally blind since childhood yet flourished in mainstream schools, at Columbia University and at Hofstra Law School. It says that after the governorship was thrust on him by Eliot Spitzer's resignation in March of 2008, Paterson fought a fiscal crisis and made some mistakes, which aren't identified in the ad.
But the narrator adds that in crisis: "You take what you have learned and have the strength to do what's right for the people of New York."
The ads, nearly 12 months before the election, seek to define Paterson before his opponents do.
"I think they are very effective," said Doug Muzzio, a politics professor at New York City's Baruch College. "Paterson is playing chicken. He's in the car, he revved up his engine, ready to roll and daring people to drive at him."
Muzzio said the stark tones of the ad, earnest not action-packed, befit the message of leading a state in hard times.
Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and former dean at the State University of New York at New Paltz, said the ads were good on tone, but also on substance, and it starts the campaign "on his own terms."
The powerful, high-cost ad campaign is early because it isn't aimed at voters 12 months from now, but at donors right now. Paterson will need to attract substantial contributions between now and Jan. 15, the next day campaigns must reveal their finances. That will tell whether Paterson has enough support to continue.
"It's hard not to feel moved, on a human level, by his life story," Lazio said of the spot that uses family album shots of New York's first black governor. "I think it's a terrific story in many ways.
"I find myself often agreeing with what the governor says," Lazio continued. "My issue is his follow through and his consistency. The question is, is he doing what he says he wants to? I think that's where the problem lies."
Lazio recalled Paterson strongly criticizing the state budget, "and then he signs it."
Paterson is hoping to reintroduce himself to New Yorkers in the ads, after months of attack ads by labor unions fighting his proposals to cut spending and close billions of dollars in deficits. He blamed the shortfalls partly on years of overspending for powerful special interests. After winning popularity in the summer of 2008, when he warned, almost alone, of a coming recession and the need to address it, Paterson made missteps that included bungling the appointment of a U.S. senator, hastening a steep drop in the polls.
"This was a second chance to make a first impression," said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. "People do come off the canvas, but his numbers are very, very low. The question is, is he able to recast himself?"
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