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Obama cordial but cool to Gov. Paterson

President Barack Obama greets New York Gov. David

President Barack Obama greets New York Gov. David Paterson before speaking about the economy, Monday, Sept. 21, 2009, at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

A day after reports that he wants Gov. David A. Paterson to drop his election bid, President Barack Obama came here Monday and paid more attention to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo than to Paterson.

Obama's warmth toward Cuomo - who many Democrats want to run for governor next year instead of Paterson - was evident in his introductions of the pair before a speech about the economy and higher education. At least twice last week, Obama, through intermediaries, allegedly urged the governor to step aside in 2010 because of low poll numbers. But Paterson has vowed to fight on.

PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of President Obama and Governor Paterson in NY

Obama briefly glanced and gestured toward Paterson, saying, "A wonderful man, the governor of the great state of New York - David Paterson is in the house." The president spoke most of the words while looking away from the governor.

Obama then brought up Cuomo. Looking down at notes and out to the crowd of 350 people, the president joked about Cuomo's hard-charging style: "Your shy and retiring attorney general - Andrew Cuomo is in the house."

Obama turned to face Cuomo and smiled broadly. He then turned back to the audience, adding, "Andrew is doing great work enforcing the laws that need to be enforced."

William T. Cunningham, a former top aide to Govs. Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, said, "Both verbally and in terms of body language it seemed [Obama] was a lot warmer toward the attorney general. . . . He turned a smile on when he mentioned the attorney general that if it was a light it would have been a beam shooting across the room."

Paterson appeared subdued during Obama's speech. Earlier, the governor was first in a line of dignitaries to greet Obama as he stepped off Air Force One at Albany International Airport. They appeared to have a brief, cordial conversation.

On the flight from New York City, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs didn't deny alleged White House efforts to persuade Paterson to bow out. "Everybody understands the tough jobs that every elected official has right now in addressing many of the problems that we have, and I think people are aware of the tough situation that the governor of New York is in," Gibbs said.

Obama's request to stand down was delivered to Paterson by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) at a dinner Friday night, according to a top Democratic Party official. But last night, Meeks told an Albany TV station, "I didn't deliver a message to the governor from the administration or anyone else that he not run." Meeks said he only expressed White House concerns about Paterson's electability.

A Paterson confidant said Obama's political affairs director, Patrick Gaspard, met with Paterson last Monday to express worries that his unpopularity would hand Republicans key state and congressional offices next year.

Republicans blasted Obama's alleged effort to push Paterson aside. Former Gov. George Pataki said, "I just think it's wrong. To weaken and undermine the governor beyond the weakness that already exists, to me, just doesn't serve the interests of the state, doesn't serve the interests of our country."

PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of President Obama and Governor Paterson in NY

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