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State GOP woos Levy, angers Islip Republican

New York State Republican chairman Edward Cox is wooing Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy about the possibility of changing parties to become the Republican gubernatorial nominee, according political sources.

But the GOP leader of Levy's hometown of Islip lambasted Cox in a caustic letter, saying Levy "has tried to decimate the Republican Party" and Levy's nomination would be "an insult to every Republican in the state."

Frank Tantone's rebuke comes after Levy met with Cox Friday in New York City with discussions centering on Levy switching parties by month's end to make the race, according to several sources. Levy also met Monday night at Albany's Fort Orange with GOP leaders of 10 upstate counties.

Levy, who is mulling a run, declined to comment on meetings with Cox or GOP officials, but said he has made "no secret" he would embrace another party's ballot lines as he did when the GOP endorsed his 2007 re-election for Suffolk County executive.

But Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he did not see Levy changing parties. "It's no surprise Republicans would want him as their candidate," he said, "But the Steve Levy I know would never change his Democratic affiliation."

Cox and John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, did not return calls for comment. LaValle has already endorsed former Rep. Rick Lazio, the GOP's lone announced gubernatorial candidate. Joseph Mondello, Nassau GOP chairman, also declined to comment.

The talks surfaced as Lazio filed what some leaders consider a disappointing campaign finance report Friday, showing $637,356 cash though he raised $1.1 million in the last six months. Levy raised $4.1 million over six years in office, but since June has raised $3,162.

Vincent Reda, Rockland County GOP chair, said Levy comes "with the credentials we're looking for - he's a fiscal conservative." But he added Levy would be a long shot. "But could it become real? It could," he said.

Barney Keller, Lazio's spokesman, declined to comment on Levy's meeting with Cox or party leaders, but said the former lawmaker's fundraising is "right on track" and he has already won the support of more than 30 percent of the state GOP committee, enough to ensure a place on the state primary ballot in September.

Some party insiders speculate that maneuvers to enlist Levy are aimed at opening up the county executive seat for Suffolk Republicans or converting Levy to the GOP ranks.

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