Gary Berntsen, a retired CIA agent from Port Jefferson, scored an upset victory at the state Republican Convention Tuesday, winning the most support of four candidates seeking to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Charles Schumer.

Berntsen received 43.16 percent of the convention delegate votes on the first ballot, followed by political consultant Jay Townsend with 37.6 percent; Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, 18 percent; and Jim Staudenraus, a small-business owner from Shelter Island, 0.83 percent.

In the second ballot, Berntsen's tally jumped to 62 percent as Nassau delegates switched from Maragos. The Townsend vote was virtually unchanged, though he qualified to mount a primary challenge to Berntsen in September.

The pair is virtually unknown statewide, and polls show Schumer, first elected in 1998, with a commanding lead. The U.S. Senate nomination came on the first day of the three-day GOP convention in midtown Manhattan.

The tea party movement upstate and on Long Island powered Berntsen's candidacy. Suffolk Republicans backed him after he dropped out of the crowded field seeking to unseat Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).

"America stands at a crossroads. We have many threats," Berntsen told the 450 delegates last night. "I will do everything in my power to defend and protect our future."

Berntsen's career in counterintelligence, particularly fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and East Africa, appealed to the convention. Every time his name was mentioned about 50 tea party supporters stood, clapped, whistled and waved signs.

Townsend sought to remind delegates that no Republican has won statewide office since 1974 without backing from the Conservative Party. He received the Conservative nomination last Friday in the same hotel where the GOP convention is being held.

Townsend criticized the federal health care law, saying it would bankrupt the states. "It's not right for our nation, and it's not right for New York," he said to polite applause.

Earlier, former hedge fund manager Harry Wilson was nominated by acclamation for state comptroller. The Scarsdale resident is challenging incumbent Democrat Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck.

"Our man-made disaster in Albany is driving people out of this state," Wilson said, vowing to roll back increases in taxes and government regulation.

A son of Greek immigrants who settled in upstate Johnstown, Wilson compared New York's fiscal crisis to General Motors Corp.'s bankruptcy. He worked on the presidential task force that helped bail out GM, which recently has shown signs of recovery.

Wilson criticized DiNapoli's selection by the State Legislature in February 2007 after the resignation of disgraced Comptroller Alan Hevesi. "You cannot be independent from the very people who handed you your job on the Shelly Silver platter," Wilson said, referring to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). DiNapoli was an assemblyman for 21 years.

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