Bruce Blakeman, the former Nassau legislative chief, was designated the Republican challenger to Democratic incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Thursday, though he will face a primary from one, and possibly, two other Republicans.
The state Republican Convention ended with September primaries likely in three of the six statewide races, including both U.S. Senate seats and governor. In contrast, Democrats will only have one primary - for state attorney general, the job now held by their gubernatorial nominee, Andrew Cuomo.
Political experts speculated that the Republican primaries would undermine the eventual winners' chances against Democrats in the November general elections. Primaries are costly, divisive and provide negative publicity to be used by opponents, they said.
"Republicans leave town with a lot of candidates, and that's a distraction when they need to be uniting," said pollster Lee M. Miringoff of Marist College. "With 2 million more Democrats in this state, Republicans cannot afford to be divided amongst themselves or with the Conservative Party."
In both Senate races, the state GOP bypassed the candidates nominated last Friday by Conservatives. No Republican has won statewide office since 1974 without Conservative support.
Among those vying to unseat Gillibrand, Blakeman led economist David Malpass and former Rep. Joseph DioGuardi of Westchester County. In the first roll-call vote, convention delegates meeting in Manhattan gave Blakeman 42 percent; Malpass, 40, and DioGuardi, 18.
"Americans haven't lost faith in their country," Blakeman said in a speech focused on tax cuts and terrorism. "They have lost faith in their leaders. . . . I will fight for the hardworking families of New York."
Blakeman and Malpass will be on the primary ballot, each having gotten the required 25 percent. However, Blakeman is the party's official candidate because he scored 51 percent in the second vote as some Suffolk delegates left DioGuardi and Malpass. DioGuardi vowed to make it a three-man primary, saying he will collect 15,000 signatures on petitions to get on the ballot. He already has the Conservative nomination. "New Yorkers deserve to hear every voice, every idea, every candidate during the debate," he said.
Separately Thursday, Chautauqua County executive Greg Edwards, the lieutenant governor running mate of Republican gubernatorial designee Rick Lazio, was nominated by acclamation.
And Buffalo multimillionaire developer Carl Paladino announced plans to challenge Lazio in the primary and general elections. Paladino said he would spend $500,000 to gather petition signatures for a place on the primary ballot and to establish a new ballot line for tea party protesters.
"I'm not going anywhere but Albany," Paladino said.