ALBANY -- Republican Rob Astorino jumped into the race for Governor Wednesday, saying he'll challenge Democrat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Astorino, the Westchester County executive, harshly criticized Cuomo in an online video announcement, saying the Democrat has been "dividing" New Yorkers. He accused the incumbent of painting a rosy and false picture of the state's economic direction.
"I'm announcing my candidacy for governor of New York State because I'm tired of listening to a fairy tale that everything is just great when it's just the opposite," Astorino said in a six-minute video posted on his website Wednesday. "I'm tired of watching New York's decline."
In a preview of campaign themes, Astorino said "families, seniors and businesses" are leaving New York "in droves." He criticized Cuomo for promoting economic "gimmicks," backing the controversial Common Core academic standards, proposing free college education for state-prison inmates and "demonizing" people who oppose him. He said "New York is No. 1 in all the wrong things" under Cuomo.
Astorino, 46, who will begin a five-stop campaign tour in the Bronx Thursday, has been a rising Republican star since scoring an upset in heavily Democratic Westchester in 2009, ousting incumbent County Executive Andrew Spano. He cruised to re-election last fall.
But he will face longer odds in taking on Cuomo, who has $33 million stockpiled in his campaign coffers and enjoys a huge lead in the polls. The governor has said last week he's running for re-election, though he hasn't officially declared his candidacy. Democrats enjoy a 2-1 enrollment advantage over Republicans in the state.
Astorino had just $1 million in his campaign account as of January. He has said he won't need to raise as much as Cuomo to run an effective campaign.
It's not certain yet whether Astorino will face competition on the right. Developer Donald Trump has dabbled with the idea of running as a Republican, though some leading Republicans have doubted whether Trump is serious. Carl Paladino, the Republican Buffalo businessman whom Cuomo beat in 2010, has threatened to run on a minor-party line.
Paladino didn't do Astorino any favors when he badmouthed his fellow Republican's chances. "Rob can't raise money and he has a bad name recognition problem," Paladino said in an email Wednesday, echoing criticisms he's made over the last few months as Astorino began wooing GOP leaders. Paladino garnered just 33 percent of the vote in 2010.
Top Republicans seem to be coalescing around Astorino.
"Goliath, meet David," state Republican chairman Ed Cox said in a statement, noting the Astorino's underdog status as the campaign begins. "Rob Astorino has proved that a Republican can win in two-to-one Democratic New York."
But Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff said Astorino faces a daunting challenge.
"He has a long to-do list, not the least of which is raising money, getting known, convincing New Yorkers they need to move in a different direction and that he's a good alternative," Miringoff said.
That said, Astorino "hit all the hot-button issues" in his announcement, including taxes, spending and jobs, the pollster said.
"He's articulate. He can frame issues," Miringoff said of the former radio executive. "In Westchester, he clearly won over crossover Democrat votes, so he's been an effective campaigner. But it's a big state and it'll take a lot of money."
Asserting he has crossover appeal, Astorino said: "There's a reason I've twice been elected by a 13-point margin in Westchester with the help of Democrats and independents. It's because I've governed in a bipartisan and inclusive manner and we've delivered the bold reforms, progress and results that we promised."
Though Cuomo officials and the state Democratic Party didn't comment on Astorino, Cuomo-friendly surrogates rushed in to fill the void.
The National Organization for Women blasted the Republican's anti-abortion position, an education group praised Cuomo for backing the Common Core and Westchester County Democrats launched a website to "tell the truth" about Astorino's record.
"We are launching the Astorino Truth Squad to set the record straight and let the people of New York know that what Rob Astorino says is seldom what he does," said Democratic county legislator Ken Jenkins.
A Siena poll earlier this week found that 73 percent of New York voters didn't know Astorino or had no opinion of him. The survey also showed Cuomo with a 42-point lead over the Republican.
The Republican convention is slated for mid-May. If Astorino becomes the GOP standard-bearer, both major-party candidates will be from Westchester: Cuomo lives in New Castle; Astorino in Mount Pleasant.