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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

AG's race an interesting undercard contest

Republican lawyer John Cahill challenges Democratic Attorney General

Republican lawyer John Cahill challenges Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Photo Credit: AP; Howard Schnapp

The race for attorney general promises to be the closest of the three statewide election contests.

But it remains an open question as to how close even the closest race may be.

From the campaign's outset, observers saw Republican lawyer John Cahill, a close associate of former Gov. George Pataki, as having the best chance to win a statewide office for the GOP as he challenges first-term Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

Schneiderman, though, retains big advantages in fundraising and institutional support going into the final turn to Nov. 4. Recent statewide polls showed him with a lead in the double digits.

On Long Island Schneiderman leads by 7 points -- 46 to 39 percent -- according to the latest Newsday/News 12/Siena poll. Another 13 percent told Siena they didn't have a preference.

The same poll showed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, also Democrats, leading their GOP opponents, Rob Astorino and Bob Antonacci, by 21 and 19 percent, respectively. Despite the contrast, the Schneiderman camp has reason to view the results as a plus. In 2010, he lost both Nassau and Suffolk (as did DiNapoli).

Nobody interested in this race forgets that Cuomo's challenges from Astorino and the Green Party's Howie Hawkins top the ballot.

The dynamic within the party lines is interesting. Cahill, in his early TV commercials, poked Schneiderman over the controversial windup of Cuomo's Moreland Commission corruption probe.

The panel was announced last year with Cuomo standing alongside Schneiderman, his successor as attorney general with whom he's repeatedly said to have had a tense relationship. At the time, Schneiderman deputized commissioners so they'd have the authority to investigate lawmakers while working for the panel.

Noticeably, Cahill has refrained from skewering Cuomo directly, as Astorino has, over the governor's subsequent alleged micromanaging of the commission probes. Cahill instead has stuck to casting doubt on Schneiderman's role, given what Cahill obtusely called "political influence that was clearly ongoing." For his part, Schneiderman has said he presumed the commission's independence and treated it that way.

Of course, Astorino, not Cahill, is challenging Cuomo. And Cahill will want to win some Democratic and unaffiliated voters who may be crossing over to his name from Cuomo's. Republican lawyer Bruce Blakeman appears to follow a similar tack as he runs for Congress against the commission's former co-chair, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

Schneiderman projects a progressive profile. Speaking to a convention of the union-backed Working Families Party in May -- which ultimately voted to endorse all three statewide Democrats -- Schneiderman cited progressive victories over the past term that included "the governor with us strongly in some efforts, and with us more and more strongly as time went on."

There are several issues on which Cahill and Schneiderman differ -- hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for natural gas, and the New York SAFE Act regulating guns, to name a couple. Polls also have shown Schneiderman with particularly higher numbers among female voters.

Watch the numbers for any changes as this undercard contest plays out over the next three weeks.

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