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Five things Lazio should focus on during campaign

Rudy Giuliani's endorsement is a coup for Rick Lazio in his bid for the governor's office, but the former Republican congressman from Brightwaters faces an uphill campaign, political observers said. Still, Lazio has a chance to win if he can succeed in a few critical areas and catch a few breaks, pollsters and political analysts said. They pointed to five things Lazio must focus on, and hope for, if he expects to contend in 2010. 1 Play down Wall Street ties.

After leaving Congress in 2001, Lazio became a lobbyist for the financial services industry and a managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase.

The industry has drawn public anger, and Lazio must be ready to defend himself against opponents eager to capitalize. "He is going to have to show voters that he understands their needs," said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg, "even though he has been making significantly more money than they have."2 Raise big money in a bad economy.

This is where Lazio's connections in the world of finance help. To succeed in a statewide race, Lazio needs to take in a minimum of $30 million, said Christopher Hahn, a former Long Island director for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who now heads the government practice at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone.

That's a large sum in a time of donor fatigue, especially for a candidate who doesn't have huge name recognition. "It would have been an easy task for Giuliani," Hahn said, "but not for Rick Lazio."3 Show some fluid political skills.

Conservatives have pull in statewide GOP politics and Lazio needs them. But Lazio is middle-of-the-road, observers said.

Making matters tougher, in New York a Republican must get support from moderates and Democrats to succeed.

Not an easy balance. "If he doesn't have that base, he can't win," Hahn said. "And of course if you motivate that conservative base, you alienate the moderates and the Democrats and you can't win, either."4 Campaign better than he did in 2000.

Many voters will remember Lazio for his loss to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2000 U.S. Senate race, a contest in which he failed to catch fire with voters, observers said.

"It was really a one-note song about her being a carpetbagger and it didn't go anywhere," said Lee Miringoff, who directs the Marist College poll. Miringoff said he believes Lazio does have untapped talents, including the ability to articulate and frame issues in a way that connects with voters.5 Face Gov. David A. Paterson.

Paterson, whose approval ratings have been low with a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing 49 percent of respondents disapprove of his performance, may face a primary challenge from popular Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. If Cuomo doesn't run, Lazio's prospects brighten. For now, he must have a flexible enough strategy to prepare for either opponent. "He doesn't have any control over that," Miringoff said, "but his odds certainly go up if his opponent is Paterson."

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