The battle for the Republican nod for governor is shaping up as the hottest race around, as an already fractious party goes to war with itself over how to get back in power.

While heavily Democratic New York City may not be the main battleground as the three candidates fight it out in the suburbs and upstate, there are signs the Big Apple will get plenty of attention.

“Even though there aren’t a huge number of Republican votes in New York City, there are a lot of Republican dollars,” said Michael Krasner, a political science professor at Queens College.

Of the five county chairs, only the Bronx has made an endorsement, backing Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, but many experts label former Rep. Rick Lazio, now an executive at JP Morgan Chase, the best suited to Gotham.

“His tone and temperament will play better in the city.” said David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College.

The third candidate, Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, is vowing to spend $10 million of his own money as the so-called tea party candidate, a populist brand of conservatism alien to many urban dwellers.

The candidates are not running in a primary now but are competing for the support of party delegates at the state convention in June. Though Republicans will select one of them, all three could end up on the ballot in one form or another.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), said Lazio has told him he will have a noticeable presence in Queens, where Republicans picked up three council seats last year and 40,000 party votes could be in play for the upcoming primary.

Lazio’s ties to Wall Street and his support in Congress for easing banking regulations may also make him the favorite of Manhattan Republicans, whose allegiances to the party tend to be based more on economic than social issues.

But Levy, striking a populist note, has already attacked Lazio over those ties, saying in a recent interview he “put the ‘big’ in ‘too big to fail.’”

Levy, who has vowed to aggressively take on the public employees unions and create an independent commission to recommend spending cuts, has the backing of the state Republican chairman, while Lazio enjoys the support of the head of the Conservative Party.

Lazio said cutting Medicaid spending will be the centerpiece of his campaign, and has focused his attacks on the Democrats now in control of Albany.

“People are increasingly embarrassed by the toxic political culture,” he said.

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