Ex-Rep. Lazio fights back conservative challenge in governor's race

NEW YORK — The most surprising Tea-Party-fueled upset Tuesday might not come in either Delaware or New Hampshire. It could come in New York's Republican gubernatorial primary, where former Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) is facing a strong challenge from businessman Carl Paladino. 

Paladino is self-funding his campaign, which has taken some strange turns even by New York standards. 

He has won backers among Tea Party groups in the state over the course of his campaign, though no noteworthy third-party conservative groups have lined up behind him.    

The thrust of Paladino's message appears to be that he's angry and he thinks voters should be too. At a Tea Party rally in Albany over the weekend, Paladino was quoted by The New York Times as telling voters, "I'm taking a baseball bat to Albany with me." 

After pledging to spend upwards of $10 million of his own money on the race, polls ahead of Tuesday have Paladino in a dead heat with Lazio, and several of the state's political observers think Paladino may actually pull the upset Tuesday. 

Lazio, who was the party's nominee for Senate against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in 2000, finally started paying attention to Paladino ahead of the primary, making the case that he wasn't fit for high office. 

That message was helped by the fact that Paladino's bid has been dominated by late news of a series of e-mails he forwarded to friends and other associates that contained racist jokes and pornography. 

A large part of the focus for Paladino has been on upstate New York. Paldino voted in Buffalo Tuesday morning, while Lazio made the rounds on Long Island. 

If Paladino does find a way to win Tuesday, it would be just as surprising as a Christine O'Donnell upset in Delaware, though not as consequential.   

When it comes to the general election, it's not expected to be much of a race in the fall. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) will be the heavy favorite over whichever Republican emerges from Tuesday's primary. 

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