Owego, NY- Rick Lazio says the battle for the GOP nomination for governor is over, but Republican chairman Ed Cox apparently didn't get the memo.
"I very firmly believe that Steve is now gathering momentum, and he is going to get his 51 percent" of the party's weighted vote needed to get on the Republican ballot, Cox said after a regional candidates' forum in this verdant but struggling region Sunday evening.
"And Rick will have more than 25 percent, and we'll be in a primary," Cox said. "This year, primaries are good for us."
Lazio's campaign manager Kevin Fullington had circulated a "MUST READ MEMO" Friday asserting that Lazio "has much more than 50 percent of the weighted vote solidly committed and Steve Levy will not make it into a Republican primary.' Lazio claims the support of 27 county chairmen representing 51 percent of the weighted party vote, according to a survey by the Albany Times union this week.
But Levy dismissed the strength of that support when he arrived for the candidate"s forum before party leaders leaders from a cluster of seven Binghamton area counties whose chairs have mostly endorsed Lazio. All of the declared candidayes for statewide office attended- Senate hopeful Joe DioGuardi flew up from Florida with copies of his book, "Unaccountable Congress," while Nassau comptroller George Maragos, who is thinking about challenging Sen. Charles Schumer, was "very impressive--a lot of people sat up and took notice," said Tioga County chairman Don Leonard, who hosted the meeting. "Scott Brown proved there's no such thing as titans any more."
Leonard, a former Marine who believes in keeping his promises, is sticking with the endorsement he gave Lazio before Levy declared and believes most of his area chairs prefer the former Brightwaters congressman.He doesn't see the momentum Cox speaks of.
But Levy gained traction with at least a few of the party officials in this struggling region where the localLockheed Martin plant just lost a contract to build the presidential helicopter, costing 1500 jobs.
Tompkins County has not yet endorsed any of the candidates, but "the mood around the county is we're not worried about a primary," said Dryden town chairman Jim Crawford, who likes Levy.A primary is exciting, he said, because "the ideas are so important this year we need to get the people's attention."
That is the pitch Cox has been making, too.
Candidates" get their message out earlier," Cox said, noting that a primary alows the party. To legally raise more from the same donors.
"So there can be a huge upside in messaging, name recognition and even raising money...you have a lot of speed and momentum going into the general election campaign."
Cox acknowledged that "people have different opinions on it at ths point." Among those disagreeing with him Sunday were Leonard ans Ed Morgan, western NY regional vice chair.
But Cox said the competition already has been good for both contenders , allowing them to "sharpen their game and sharpen their message."
Cox suggested party delegates to the state convention in June can put Levy on the primary ballot without having to personally support him for governor. They could vote for Lazio and also vote to let Levy on the primary ballot, Cox said: "Those are two separate votes."
Buffalo area businessman Carl Paladino, the third declared candidate for governor, also spoke at the forum but said his expectations were more modest: he is preparing to petition his way onto the ballot and was here to lay a foundation of goodwill with folks here in preparation for the groundswell of rank and file GOP support he expects will materialize in coming months. "I am a member of the Tea Party," Paladino said.