ALBANY - David A. Paterson faces a major challenge to be elected governor in 2010, thanks to the recession and his own mistakes in 2009, pollsters and political analysts said.
For instance, a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed nearly six in 10 voters believe Paterson, a Democrat, doesn't deserve a new term. Voters have grown disenchanted over the past year as Paterson endorsed a budget raising taxes and spending, failed to quickly resolve the past summer's partisan stalemate in the State Senate, and didn't stop his aides from criticizing Caroline Kennedy after he chose someone else to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate, according to analysts.
Since spring, Paterson's job approval rating had been stuck at historic lows for recent New York governors, before edging up earlier this month after he blasted the legislature for refusing to completely close this year's $3.2-billion deficit.
Paterson and campaign aides acknowledged that some of his actions contributed to his low poll numbers. But they said the administration is gaining momentum as he uses the fiscal crisis to reintroduce himself.
"What I'm attempting to do is to show the public that I can manage a crisis, that I can provide leadership in the most difficult of times," Paterson told Newsday. "I can bring New York State out of this crisis."
Dem voters favor Cuomo
Still, polls found that Paterson's improved standing comes largely from Republicans and independents, not Democrats whose support he would need in a primary. Democrats, by almost a 3-1 margin, favor Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, even though he hasn't yet said publicly that he will run.
"I don't see how Paterson wins," said Joseph Mercurio, a Democratic consultant. "Nobody is going to want him running above them on the ticket."
Democrats have been voting with their checkbooks, worried the party will lose its tight grip on state government and the chance to shut out the GOP from redrawing legislative district lines for the next decade. On Jan. 15, Cuomo's campaign is expected to report having up to four times more money than Paterson.
Without cash or the necessary popularity to raise it quickly, experts said, the governor will have great difficulty boosting his poll numbers to a point where Cuomo might decide against a primary challenge.
Negotiations with lawmakers to close the deficit upended Paterson's attempt to replenish his campaign treasury. About 30 fundraisers were canceled.
Paterson added, "I'm going to keep telling the public the truth about the deplorable situation of our state's finances, and I think there's indication that the public is starting to hear me."
He was referring to the Quinnipiac poll showing voters approve of the job he's doing, 40 percent to 49 percent, up from June's low of 28-61. But he still loses overwhelmingly to Cuomo.
No choice but to run?
A primary may never happen if Paterson bows out before the nominating convention, as experts have predicted. They said lawmakers would view him as a lame duck, refusing to tackle next year's budget deficit, if he didn't pursue election this winter. "He has no choice but to be a candidate - at least for now," said Kenneth Sherrill, a political scientist at Hunter College.
Stanley B. Klein, a politics professor at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, said it was unlikely the White House would bolster New York's economy as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the Great Depression. Federal jobs programs helped FDR's successor as governor, Herbert Lehman, win re-election in 1934, 1936 and 1938.
Asked if Paterson could replicate Lehman's success, Klein quipped, "Never count a politician out until they close the lid on the coffin."