ALBANY -- Just days before the primary election, three Republicans battling for the right to take on U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are striving to carve out distinctions and mount the equivalent of a fourth-quarter rally.
With surveys showing no clear favorite, U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Rockaway Point) is arguing that he's the most electable Republican and the only one who can win the support of moderate Democrats. Lawyer Wendy Long is stressing her adherence to conservative tenets and endorsements from anti-tax activists. And Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos is mixing his conservative beliefs with his business background and immigrant-success story.
With the primary set for Tuesday, "it's anybody's ballgame," said Republican political consultant Michael Dawidziak.
"This is like a football game that gets decided in the fourth quarter -- because there has been not much happening in the first three quarters," Dawidziak said, adding it's probably too late in the race to make an effective advertising blitz, so the outcome will hinge on some old-fashioned campaign techniques.
"Whoever has a good mail [outreach] program, a good phone program, is probably going be the person to win this," Dawidziak said.
So far, the three candidates have made only slight impressions about what distinguishes them from their rivals, analysts said.
In the one debate during the race, the candidates said they wanted to improve the business climate and reduce spending. They all said they would favor natural gas drilling in New York.
Turner differed from the others in refusing to pledge to never put tax hikes "on the table" in congressional budget discussions. Also unlike the others, he said he wouldn't favor a proposal to require states to honor concealed weapon permits from other states.
"I have emphasized that politics is the art of the practical," Turner said in a later interview. "We have to get things done. I'm a practical business type."
Turner is a former television executive who splashed on the political scene by pulling a huge upset to replace disgraced U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner in a heavily Democratic Brooklyn-Queens district. He's trying to use that win to persuade Republicans to back him.
He acknowledged that's counter to the approach of Maragos and Long, who are trying to position themselves as the most conservative, and that it might hurt him in the primary.
"I think in a primary, ideology might be more important than some practicality," Turner said. "But we have to keep our eyes the big prize here."
Turner spent 40 years in television, serving as chief executive of Pearson Plc as well as other companies. The shows he was involved in bringing to air include "Baywatch," "Family Feud" and "The Rush Limbaugh Show."
Long has the endorsement of the state Conservative Party and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, as well as the most endorsements from Republican county leaders and elected officials. She has signed Norquist's anti-tax pledge in regard to reducing the federal deficit.
"You know where I stand on this: I just think that we can't ever put those on the table," Long said to Turner during the debate. "Your willingness to put them on the table sounds to me sort of like the policies of Barack Obama and Kirsten Gillibrand."
Same-sex marriage, taxes
In a segment of "Yes or No" questions, Long was the lone one of the three to say she wouldn't attend a same-sex wedding on principle -- although Long and Turner also said they opposed New York's gay marriage law.
Long has made appearances on Fox News and conservative radio talk shows. A Manhattan resident, she was born in New Hampshire and graduated from Dartmouth College. There, she worked on the Dartmouth Review, described as a controversial, sharp-elbowed conservative student newspaper.
She worked for two Republican senators in Washington, then became a private attorney, working as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas along the way. She later headed the Judicial Confirmation Network, which promotes conservative judges for the U.S. Supreme Court and opposes liberal candidates.
Like Turner, Maragos touts his decade of business experience -- 35 years in finance and banking. He said he provides the best "vision of what needs to be done to fix our economy, to put people back to work."
He calls for a simplified tax code, one that lowers corporate taxes -- but doesn't let companies avoid paying altogether as some do now. He said the nation needs to achieve "energy independence" within 10 years.
Born in Greece, Maragos' family moved to Montreal when he was nine. After college, he came to work in the United States and became a citizen in 1985. He led his own financial services company for 20 years before being elected Nassau County comptroller in 2009.
A Siena College poll taken just before the debate showed Turner with the support of 16 percent of Republican voters, Long with 11 percent and Maragos 3 percent. But the poll didn't track "likely voters," a more reliable measure. And because 70 percent are undecided makes predictions risky, pollsters said.
That also makes each candidate's effort during the final days the most important factor.
"It's all about getting out the vote," Maragos said, "and that's what we're focused on, with a grassroots network we've built throughout the state."