Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Rick Santorum may have dropped out of the Republican presidential race, but Nassau Comptroller George Maragos says he has no intention of exiting the June 26 GOP Senate primary, even though he is last in the polls.
"It's full speed ahead," said Maragos. "My torpedoes are fully loaded."
Maragos, making his second U.S. Senate run, has been on the campaign trail for nearly a year and is nothing if not persistent. He has outlasted former hedge fund manager Harry Wilson, who had weighed a Senate race after a strong run last year as the GOP candidate for state comptroller. He also survived Marc Cenedella, founder of a popular job-search website. Cenedella had promised to spend $15 million of his own on the Senate race, but withdrew following disclosures of comments he had made about women, sex and drugs on his blog.
But in the first poll since last month's GOP convention, Maragos is now running behind some late entries into the race. According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll, freshman Rep. Bob Turner of Rockaway Point leads with the support of 19 percent of respondents -- nearly three times Maragos' 7 percent. Conservative Party candidate Wendy Long, a Republican lawyer who has never held office, pulled 11 percent. The poll has Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand overwhelming any of the three by more than 30 points.
"What the poll shows is that we all have a lot of work to do," said Maragos. He attributed Turner's lead to his special election upset last fall for the seat formerly held by Democrat Anthony Weiner, and Long's edge that she is the lone woman in the contest. However, Maragos noted that "there's not that much in the way of separation" in the poll.
Maragos has criticized Long for using her role as former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as a credential for office. Long did not respond to requests for comment. Maragos also lambasted Turner for what he termed the "meaningless political stunt" of offering a free tank of gas for anyone who guesses when Gillibrand will switch positions on the Keystone oil pipeline.
Turner spokesman Jake Menges said Maragos' attacks will backfire. "If George Maragos wants to continue attacking his Republican colleagues he's not going to get too far," Menges said.
Maragos, 63, sees himself as a "compelling American story," a Greek immigrant who became a vice president at Chase and Citibank and started his own data company. He won an upset victory in the Nassau comptroller's race in 2009. "I think we have to wait for a couple of more polls and I think you'll see me leapfrog ahead," he said.
Maragos, who has vowed to spend up to $5 million of his own, said he started a radio ad on WOR in New York City last week and will go on WABC radio this week. That spot introduces Maragos as a "proven business leader" over 35 years who has "delivered balanced budgets without tax increases." Maragos declined to give details of campaign staff or fundraising, although campaign finance reports showed him with $1 million on hand at year's end. A new report is due to be filed by midnight.
Some express concern that Maragos is running a one-man effort insufficient for a statewide contest.
"I understand it's a threadbare campaign," said veteran Albany lobbyist Desmond Ryan. "It's very difficult to raise money when most people view the incumbent as a lock."
"At the end of the day, it's all about getting the vote out," Maragos said. "And this is a unique primary because the Senate and congressional races are standing all by themselves."