COLONIE - Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy predicted Friday there would be a primary for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but said he would win more support at the party's convention than former Rep. Rick Lazio.
"Most of these [GOP county] chairs, even if they are on the fence, are going to say, 'Let's give them both a chance because a primary can be a good thing,' " Levy said, before meeting privately here with eight county leaders.
Levy, a lifelong Democrat who joined the GOP on March 19, must garner more than 50 percent of the convention vote for a spot on the ballot, which would make him the party's designated candidate.
As a party member, Lazio only needs 25 percent of the vote to force a primary. Levy cannot do so because his party switch does not take effect until after the November election.
Before meeting the same officials, Lazio expressed confidence he would win the nomination. "We're in great shape . . . We have dozens of counties that have publicly endorsed my candidacy," he said.
Lazio also has the support of key Conservative Party leaders, including chairman Michael Long. No Republican has won statewide office recently without Conservative backing.
Friday's session with GOP leaders is one of nine to be held before the June convention in Manhattan. Levy and Lazio will speak Saturday to leaders in the Buffalo area.
Edward Cox, chairman of the state Republican committee and a Levy backer, said Lazio had been energized by Levy's candidacy. "Rick has really picked up his game," Cox said. "Rick is a good candidate and would make a good governor, too."
However, Cox's dissatisfaction with Lazio led him to recruit Levy, who had $4 million in his campaign treasury as of mid-January. Lazio, who had about $659,000, has been criticized for anemic fundraising and meek attacks on Democrats.
Despite Lazio's new aggressiveness, Cox said he wasn't deserting Levy. . Of the party's nine county leaders in the Albany area, five support Lazio and one backs Levy.
"I do believe some of the undecided people left on one side or the other," Graziano said. "I've always supported the experience of Levy. But Lazio was very dynamic, passionate."