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4 obstacles Paterson must overcome for election

Of his 54 predecessors, few faced more hurdles to their election than Gov. David A. Paterson.

His poll numbers are extremely low. He's been forced to propose cuts to school aid, parks, hospitals and other popular programs because the recession has squeezed tax collections. And waiting in the wings to possibly mount a Democratic primary challenge is Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the state's most popular politician.

Still, Paterson was undaunted yesterday, vowing in his campaign launch at Hofstra University to pull off a surprise victory.

Some experts remain skeptical.

"I just cannot imagine how he reverses this . . . Cuomo is probably going to be governor," said political scientist Jeffrey Stonecash of Syracuse University.

Here are four key obstacles Paterson has to overcome to win election in his own right.

Dearth of campaign cash

Paterson has about $3 million in his campaign treasury, compared with Cuomo's $16.1 million, according to disclosure forms filed last month with the state Board of Elections.

"People give money to people they think are going to win," said Marist College pollster Lee M. Miringoff.

Without cash, Paterson cannot buy the television commercials needed to boost his standing with the electorate and attract campaign staff. Past gubernatorial bids have cost $30 million or more.

Democratic desertion

Party leaders - from President Barack Obama to grassroots activists - don't support Paterson's candidacy.

Paterson also has alienated state legislators with his frequent criticism of their unwillingness to completely close the 2009-10 budget deficit. Some lead their county committees.

"He's going to drag down the ticket," said one upstate chairman who requested anonymity. "Look at the Republican victories on Long Island. We need Cuomo to run or else we're in for a beating."

Voter backlash

Voters angry with incumbents may not accept Paterson's description of himself as "an outsider fighting for the people's interest, not special interests."

Paterson defines incumbency having spent most of his career in politics. He was a state senator for 21 years before becoming lieutenant governor in 2007 and governor in 2008. "How can you be an outsider if you've been inside for almost 25 years?" said Stanley Klein, a politics professor at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University and a GOP committeeman from Dix Hills.

Bad news

Paterson's unlikely to have good news for voters because New York's finances remain shaky. Last week, he warned of delaying income tax refunds, school aid and other payments to forestall the state running out of cash on March 31. He was criticized in December for withholding payments.

Special interests already have TV ads attacking his proposed 2010-11 budget. "Paterson's tough-guy approach may be liked by economists, but the general public doesn't want their favorite programs cut," Klein said.

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