State Republicans designated former Rep. Rick Lazio as their candidate for governor Wednesday as rival Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive, failed to secure a place on the September primary ballot.

Lazio, of Brightwaters, received nearly 60 percent of the delegate votes at the state Republican Convention in midtown Manhattan. Levy captured 28 percent, followed by Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, 8 percent, and Manhattan real estate executive Myers Mermel, 4 percent.

Levy's showing enabled him to force a second vote, in which he needed more than 50 percent to challenge Lazio in a gubernatorial primary. But delegates rejected that possibility, 57 percent to 43 percent.

The hourlong vote was contentious, with Levy supporters chanting, "Let the people vote," and Lazio backers responding, "Just say no."

In his acceptance speech, Lazio called for unity in the face of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Cuomo, who leads him in recent polls by more than 40 percentage points.

"Together we will lead our party to victory," Lazio said. "It is time that we unify and we come together."

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However, Levy declined to endorse Lazio, telling reporters he could mount a third-party challenge in November to both Lazio and Cuomo.

"I'm contemplating my other options - if there's potentially another line to be running on, simply to get the message out," Levy said. "I don't think I'd necessarily win on another line, but you'd be able to force the other candidates to adopt the type of important policies that I think the state really needs and to make sure we don't go off that financial cliff."

In addition to governor, the state GOP Wednesday nominated Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan for attorney general. He received 60 percent of the delegate votes to 40 percent for Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, who then withdrew from a potential primary.

Later Wednesday, state Republican chairman Edward Cox, citing a recent conversation with Levy, said the county executive "is not going to be supporting a third-party line, he's going to be supporting Republicans."

Told of Cox's comments, Levy repeated his earlier statement.

The failure of Levy's primary challenge is a rebuke of Cox, who recruited the lifelong Democrat last winter amid party concerns about Lazio's anemic fundraising and lackluster stump speeches. The move sparked intraparty skirmishes and rumors of Cox's imminent demise.

Asked about his future, Cox said, "I don't have any plans to resign. No one has asked me to resign."

Of the other gubernatorial aspirants, Mermel quickly endorsed Lazio, and Paladino vowed to gather signatures on petitions to secure a spot on the primary ballot.

After the votes were taken, Lazio attempted to redirect the delegates' attention away from infighting to Cuomo. He portrayed the Democratic attorney general as a Capitol old-hand who is captive to state employee unions and other special interests.

"Andrew Cuomo has been too political for too long," Lazio said. "Isn't it time we reject the status Cuomo?"

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Cuomo, through a spokesman, declined to comment on Lazio's remarks. However, sources close to Cuomo said he considers Lazio a less formidable foe than Levy.

The GOP convention wraps up Thursday with nominations and votes for lieutenant governor and a challenge to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

With Dan Janison, Elizabeth Moore

and Thomas Maier