New York gubernatorial candidate and Suffolk county executive Steve Levy,...

New York gubernatorial candidate and Suffolk county executive Steve Levy, left, speaks as fellow candidate Carl Paladino listens during a panel discussion at Hofstra University. (May 20, 2010) Credit: William Perlman

ALBANY - Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino has supplanted Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in what is now a four-way race for the Republican nomination for governor, but "undecided" remains the winner, claiming more than 40 percent of primary voters, according to a poll released Monday.

Former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio remains far ahead of his rivals, with 29 percent.

The Siena Research Institute found 16 percent of Republicans back Paladino and 14 percent support Levy, a lifelong Democrat who switched parties to seek the Executive Mansion. It is the first time Levy has trailed Paladino, although with the 3.3 percent margin of error factored in the two remain virtually even.

Paladino's campaign Monday attributed the increase in support to the start of its statewide advertising campaign. Republicans hold their nominating convention next week in Manhattan.

Siena pollster Steven Greenberg called the poll results "a reflection of three largely unknown candidates. Voters are sort of conditioned to start paying attention to politics around Labor Day." Thirty-nine percent of voters answered "Don't know/no opinion" when asked their view of Lazio, while Levy was unknown by 67 percent. Paladino, who's running for office for the first time, was unknown by 76 percent.

Levy strategist Michael Dawidziak said the voters whose opinions count right now are the GOP committee members who will meet in Manhattan next week to select candidates for the ballot - and those voters, he said, are very familiar with the candidates.

Lazio's campaign said of the poll, "Rick Lazio looks forward to uniting the Republican Party at the convention and taking on Andrew Cuomo in November."

Manhattan businessman Myers Mermel, who entered the GOP governor's race Monday, wasn't represented in the poll.

Cuomo, the presumptive Democratic nominee, continues to outpace the GOP candidates by more than 40 points in Siena's poll. By its measure, Cuomo beats Lazio, 66 percent to 24 percent. He defeats Levy and Paladino, each 65 percent to 22 percent.

In the race to succeed Cuomo as state attorney general, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice leads the field of five for the Democratic nomination - but 61 percent of primary voters are undecided. Democrats hold their nominating convention in Rye Brook, beginning Tuesday. Rice was backed by 21 percent, followed most closely by state Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan with 9 percent.

Though many still don't know him after more than three years as state comptroller, Democrat Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck leads Republican Harry Wilson, a former hedge-fund manager, 45 percent to 22 percent.

The poll of 905 registered voters was conducted May 17-20.

With Elizabeth Moore

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