This story was originally published in Newsday on Oct. 10, 2010.
Kevin O'Flaherty, a registered Republican, has heard enough from Carl Paladino to make up his mind about the GOP nominee for governor.
"He's crazy," said the 47-year-old postal worker from East Meadow. "He should talk about what's wrong with New York instead of making personal attacks. I think it's wrong."
As the Buffalo developer takes his self-described "politically incorrect" campaign into the general election, voters appear to be growing weary of it quickly, according to interviews with Long Island voters, public opinion polls and political observers.
After initially gaining on his main opponent, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, after the Sept. 14 GOP primary, Paladino has fallen far behind in two polls last week. Quinnipiac University had Paladino behind Cuomo 55 percent to 37 percent - just two weeks after showing just a 6-percentage-point spread. And the Siena Research Institute puts him back 56 to 32.
In the Siena poll of likely voters, 61 percent agreed Paladino "is a loose cannon, who doesn't have the temperament to be governor."
The surveys came after a series of largely self-inflicted wounds, experts said, which hit just as Paladino was introducing himself to a larger audience: a televised shouting match with a reporter, unsubstantiated accusations that Cuomo had an affair, and calling Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a "criminal," again without proof.
"The more voters see of him, the less they like him," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Paladino, 64, has attributed some of his missteps to political inexperience in his first run for elected office. And he says the public opinion polls are flawed, as the surveys often do not contact those who may vote for the first time this year out of anger at Albany.
"Political 'experts' said Carl couldn't win the primary and we mopped up the place," his campaign manager Michael Caputo said in an e-mail. He noted that surveys showed Paladino losing big before his 24 percentage-point primary win over former GOP Rep. Rick Lazio of Brightwaters.
"Now the polls show us down and the prognosticators are saying Carl's too angry to win," Caputo said. "But New Yorkers are clearly mad enough to come out and vote in droves and they're not voting for Andrew Cuomo."
Paladino supporters say the media were unfairly seizing on his comments about affairs and ignoring his substantive policy ideas.
"If he's given the opportunity to be heard, he's going to hit a home run every time," said Richard Burns, 30, who organizes Suffolk 9/12 Project events in the Town of Riverhead.
But even as Paladino has tried to tone down his rhetoric and show what he called last week his "kinder, gentler side," he has strayed from his core message of tax cuts, spending reductions and ethics reform, experts said.
Paladino's remark on Thursday about Cuomo's sexual "prowess" - in a three-minute scripted advertisement initially billed as bringing the candidate's message directly to voters - was typical, experts said.
"He had an opportunity to really present some ideas about how he was really going to make a change and it looks to me like he couldn't control himself," said Syracuse University political science professor Jeff Stonecash.
The Quinnipiac poll on Thursday reported 49 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable view of Paladino. Brian Zehnter, 37, a banker from Syosset, said he's heard little to give him a positive impression.
Paladino "comes across as a little defensive or aggressive toward Cuomo," Zehnter said. "It sounds like there are a lot of personal attacks against Cuomo whereas Cuomo's ads are much more about himself."
Also fresh in the minds of some voters are reports that he forwarded racist e-mails.
"Anybody who has racist views isn't right for the job," said Johnny Morrison, 33, of West Hempstead.
Want to hear his ideas
Others said they want to hear more about Paladino's ideas for running the state.
"You are getting very little concrete information right now," said Marie Gomis, 42, of Huntington. "It's frustrating. We are looking for a leader figure. Make a commercial about what you are going to do for the state. Nobody cares about who is sleeping with whom."
Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said Paladino has to reintroduce himself to voters - and soon.
"What he needs right now is a second chance to make a first impression," Miringoff said.
The battle's ups, downs
When Carl Paladino announced his gubernatorial run in April, few gave him much of a chance. But Paladino easily won the Republican primary on Sept. 14 and got a quick boost in the polls against Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Paladino's numbers have since slipped, and experts say the same no-holds-barred style that propelled him into the spotlight may now be hurting him.
ANDREW CUOMO (D)
59% Cuomo's lead +36
55% Cuomo +30
60% Cuomo +37
49% Cuomo +6
55% Cuomo +18
Carl Paladino (R)
Oct. 1 - Paladino, alleging that Democratic opponent Andrew Cuomo had extra-marital affairs, says he has a "box" of information on Cuomo that he will release at the appropriate time.
Oct. 5 - Paladino calls Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a "criminal" at a Manhattan conference of executives
Sept. 14 - Paladino crushes Rick Lazio in the Republican primary. "If we've learned anything tonight, it is that New Yorkers are mad as hell," he said.
Sept. 26 - Two New York City newspapers publish interview with Paladino's wife and write stories about his child by a mistress.
Sept. 27 - Paladino tells Newsday the media should look into Andrew Cuomo's "paramours."
Sept. 29 - Cuomo paramours story goes national on politico.com. Paladino gets into televised shouting match with reporter.