One month after Steve Levy launched his surprise offensive for the governor's office, the propaganda broadcasts for and against him each day boom loud and clear.

But the battlefield, and any path to victory, remains shrouded in thick fog.

That fog consists of all the conflicting accounts over how much party support Levy and Rick Lazio, his principal rival, will carry into the Republican nominating convention in early June.

Estimates of support are always subject to exaggeration by the combatants.

"This is the nitty-gritty inside baseball of all inside baseball: how to get the votes at a convention," said a veteran state GOP player who declined to be identified. "In the next few weeks it will be getting very interesting."

Because Levy's dramatic defection last month from Democrat to Republican does not take legal effect until after the election, he must win 51 percent of the weighted vote of convention delegates to at least make the primary ballot. Lazio, a Republican all along, needs only 25 percent.

Levy and company always seem to make the maximum show of whatever clout they possess. In tandem with his chief ally, first-year GOP chairman Ed Cox, the Levy team has been asserting that Lazio's support slid from nearly 70 percent of the weighted vote to some 40 percent.

Lazio's lieutenants cast the Cox-Levy figures as nonsense. They insist the former Suffolk congressman has well above 50 percent - perhaps 60 percent - of the weighted convention vote. One strategist put it that Levy has 25 percent "if you want to be generous."

Levy and his partisans keep predicting big defections and claim his share at 40 percent; Lazio's people call this magical thinking. Levy seems to have, by one count, 15 chairmen of counties with varying clout. But county delegations are not all in lockstep.

In Suffolk, for example, his supporter John Jay LaValle looms large as chairman, yet the Huntington and Islip GOP remain with Lazio. Statewide, one estimate Thursday put as much as 25 percent undecided statewide.

Another complicating factor is Erie County, where a third candidate, Carl Paladino, hails from. How much home-region support can he muster in the end?

On Wednesday, Levy trumpeted the new backing of the Schuyler County chairman. But what he didn't announce was that Schuyler has only one-fifth of 1 percent of the weighted convention vote. Last night, Levy added Cayuga County, which adds seven-tenths of a percentage point.

All the numerical posturing explains why Levy detractors have been spinning Cox's recent statements on the governor battle - such as that Lazio would make a good governor - as evidence that Levy is bogged down. For his part, Cox said through a spokesman the other day that he is "completely confident in Levy's ability to obtain the requisite 50-plus-1 percent." The Cox camp also says Lazio hasn't been rolling up the numbers.

In the State Senate, GOP leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) remains in the Lazio camp - but has suggested a primary could be a healthy process.

Other questions hang in the fog of war. Is there significance to Levy's statement on upstate television that if he falls short with the Republicans, he would "still pursue minor party endorsements," such as the Independence Party, which he said has looked upon him "fondly"? Is it significant that he was even willing to discuss that contingency?

Soon there will be new noise on the horizon: the approach of a presumably mutual foe, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, as he declares for governor.

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