October 06, 2010

The oh-my-god political news story of recent weeks in this neck of the woods was a September 22 poll showing Carl Paladino just six points behind Andrew Cuomo among likely voters in the New York governor’s race.

Cuomo, the Democrat, is a lifetime professional pol, as his father had been before him: Mario Cuomo served three terms as Governor of New York, 1983-1994.  Neither father nor son has ever done anything but politics, unless you count a bit of perfunctory lawyering.

Paladino, the Republican candidate, is a businessman from Buffalo.  In the September 14 Republican primary he beat Rick Lazio, the candidate endorsed by the state GOP (and also by the state Conservative Party).  After Rand Paul’s win in Kentucky, Joe Miller’s defeat of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, and Christine O’Donnell’s triumph over Mike Castle in Delaware, this was one more finger poked into the eye of establishment Republicanism in this year’s primaries.  Like those other candidates, Paladino has Tea Party endorsement.

In a very Democratic state, against a famous and popular Democratic name, Paladino’s six-point gap was sensational.  It thrilled those of us who’d been admiring Paladino’s bumptious style—his promising to “go to Albany [the state capital] and take out the trash,” and to “kick open the door [of the state legislature], throw in a hand grenade, and machine-gun the survivors.”  What wasn’t to like?

Oh! ever thus, from childhood’s hour,
  I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay;
I never lov’d a tree or flow’r
  But ‘twas the first to fade away.

So with Carl.  The latest poll I’ve seen has him now 24 points behind Cuomo.  What happened?

These amateur politicians that have come up this election season—the Sharron Angles and Rand Pauls, Christine O’Donnells and Carl Paladinos—are what the “game” community calls “betas”—clumsy, clueless, unschooled in the essential arts.

Basically, Carl Paladino happened.  He rather particularly happened last Wednesday in an unsightly dust-up with state affairs reporter Fred Dicker of The New York Post.  Paladino claimed that Dicker had dispatched photographers to get pictures of his (illegitimate) daughter at the house where she lives.  If Dicker did that again, Paladino warned, “I’ll take you out.”  The candidate came across in the widely-circulated video clip as nasty, crude, and slightly unhinged.  Jokes about horse’s heads and concrete boots were passed around.

On October 4 Paladino showed up on Bill O’Reilly’s TV show, presumably to repair some of the damage.  It was a poor performance.  His body language and demeanor were all wrong—adding up to a sort of wary apologetic crouch.  It doesn’t help that he looks like Bob Newhart.  The New York Post had denied sending anyone to the house of Paladino’s love child, said O’Reilly.  They did so send someone, replied Carl: a reporter named Amber, and a photographer.  He could not supply Amber’s last name, though.  Paladino pleaded his lack of experience.  “I’m new to this. It’s the first time I’ve run for office.”

Watching that O’Reilly interview, I found myself thinking: The guy has no “game.”


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