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Levy, Lazio woo state Conservative Party bigwigs

Rick Lazio marches in the 2010 Phagwah Parade,

Rick Lazio marches in the 2010 Phagwah Parade, March 7, 2010. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy says he's "fired up" and ready to deliver a sales pitch to the state Republican Party leadership Tuesday morning on how he has the best plan to save New York's finances as governor.

Meanwhile, state GOP officials tried to call their putative candidate, Rick Lazio, to express concerns about the state of his campaign last night. But Lazio's campaign said he couldn't fit the last-minute meeting into his schedule.

Both Long Island pols wooed Conservative Party bigs at an Albany reception last night.

"I'm a fired-up voice to speak on behalf of the New York taxpayer who's fed up with the corruption permeating Albany," Levy said Monday, as he made the rounds of local news outlets. Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who wants to be attorney general, was in town for a session on Medicaid fraud and then held private meetings elsewhere.

Levy, a conservative Democrat who's warred with his unions and made national headlines for his stands on illegal immigration, argues this could be the year that his long-shot campaign for governor catches fire, tea party style, for a David vs. Goliath win over the likely Democratic candidate, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

That vision draws snorts from more than a few Democrats, some of whom privately say they would be happy to see him wipe out his campaign funds in a hopeless contest with Cuomo.

Lazio, who pitched small-business owners here Monday, told reporters he wasn't worried about Levy because he's already got endorsements from county chairmen representing most of the state.

"It's a free country, so everybody can meet with anybody they want, but I'm totally confident," he said.

Still, Republicans worry about Lazio's fundraising. He had just $659,032 as of January, according to campaign filings, while Levy had $4.1 million and Cuomo $16.1 million.

"There's a lot riding on this," said longtime Albany lobbyist Desmond Ryan, noting that control of the State Senate and reapportionment for the next 10 years are at stake. "If money is the mother's milk of politics, then Rick Lazio needs a Dairy Barn."

Is Tuesday's meeting with Levy intended to put a scare into Lazio to shape up his campaign, as some suggest, or is the Suffolk County executive getting a serious look?

"It's more than a scare at this point," responded one senior Republican. "This is very reminiscent of the Hillary Clinton debacle [when Lazio lost badly to her]. Is there an inherent problem with the candidate or just with the people who advise the candidate? . . . We can't have the top of the ticket staggering along."

Suffolk County Republican chairman John Jay LaValle, who has endorsed Lazio, insists that the party wouldn't even consider Levy unless he officially became a Republican. Tioga County chairman Don Leonard went further, saying voters had sent a strong anti-Democratic message in recent elections, so the GOP should be running Republicans.

"Of course I'm going to listen," to Levy at the meeting Tuesday, Leonard said. "But if he's such a conservative, why isn't he registered as one?"

Levy won't say whether he would switch parties, but said his outreach is driven by shared principle, not opportunism; in his last race, he noted, he was endorsed by the Republicans, Conservatives and the Independence Party.

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