Rick Lazio addresses a Tea Party rally in Massapequa. (April...

Rick Lazio addresses a Tea Party rally in Massapequa. (April 15, 2010) Credit: David Pokress

Rick Lazio has declared victory in his battle with Steve Levy for the GOP nomination for governor, but state Republican chairman Ed Cox says it's going all the way to September.

"I very firmly believe that Steve is now gathering momentum, and he is going to get his 51 percent" of the party's weighted vote needed to get on the Republican ballot, Cox said after a regional candidates' forum in upstate Owego Sunday evening.

"Rick will have more than 25 percent, and we'll be in a primary," he said. "This year, primaries are good for us."

Lazio's campaign manager, Kevin Fullington, circulated a "MUST READ MEMO" Friday asserting that Lazio "has much more than 50 percent of the weighted vote solidly committed and Steve Levy will not make it into a Republican primary."

Lazio cites an Albany Times Union survey last week that found that he had the support of 27 county chairmen representing 51 percent of the weighted party vote.

But Levy dismissed that estimate as out of date in an interview with reporters Monday. He said his campaign will be rolling out several endorsements this week, some of them significant. Levy reiterated his own estimates of securing about 45 percent of the weighted vote, including portions of county organizations whose chairmen have publicly favored Lazio or Buffalo-area businessman Carl Paladino.

Paula Snyder, Cattaraugus County's chairwoman, came out for Levy Monday, adding a little less than 1 percent of the vote to his column. Lazio picked up support from Greene County.

In Owego Sunday, Levy and other GOP candidates met with leaders of a cluster of seven Binghamton-area counties where Lazio has been endorsed by five.

Tioga County chairman Don Leonard, who hosted the meeting, is sticking with the endorsement he gave Lazio before Levy declared and he believes most of his area chairs prefer the former Brightwaters congressman. He and another regional vice chairman, Ed Morgan, say a primary would be just a drain on scant campaign resources.

But Levy has clearly gained traction with other party officials in this scenic but struggling region, where the Lockheed Martin plant just lost a contract to build the presidential helicopter, costing 1,500 jobs.

"The mood around Tompkins County is we're not worried about a primary," said Dryden town party chairman Jim Crawford, who likes Levy. A primary is exciting, he said, because "the ideas are so important this year because we need to get the people's attention."

Cox suggested that party delegates to the state convention in June could vote to put Levy on the primary ballot without having to vote to make him the party's nominee. "Those are two separate votes," Cox said.

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