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Markos Moulitsas: A third-party strategy

Believe it or not, the Republican Party is so unpopular in New York state, it could actually lose major party status.

Two recent polls out of New York demonstrate the GOP’s precarious position. The first, a Siena College poll out last week, showed that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo led the GOP’s Rob Astorino by a margin of 58 percent support to 28 percent. Another this week by Quinnipiac University had Cuomo leading 57 percent to 28 percent.

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But more interestingly, a strong third-party challenge by the labor-backed Working Families Party could dramatically reshape New York’s political landscape. In the Siena poll, Astorino fell into a tie for second place with a generic WFP candidate, 39-24-24.

Quinnipiac had similar numbers, with Astorino holding the slimmest edge on second place in the three-party match-up, 37-24-22.

The WFP’s strength comes at the expense of Cuomo, who has angered base Democrats on issues from education to Wall Street, and petulantly disbanded a corruption-probing commission, when it started delivering subpoenas to his friends. As a result, Quinnipiac found an astonishing 45 percent of Democrats defecting to the Working Families Party — not enough to threaten Cuomo’s reelection bid (at least not at this time) but enough to threaten the GOP’s hold on top-two major-party status in the state.

That status is important. Leapfrogging the GOP would allow the WFP to replace Republicans on the second ballot line in all state races for the next four years. WFP members would also replace Republicans on all of the state’s county boards of elections and perhaps other such commissions and boards. And then, there’s the psychological blow the GOP would suffer, relegated to also-ran status by the labor unions it loathes so much.

Republican hold on major-party status would be further threatened by the state’s fusion voting system, allowing candidates to occupy more than one party’s ballot line. For example, in 2010, Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino got almost 28 percent of the vote on the Republican Party line, another 5 percent on the Conservative Party line and yet another 0.56 percent on the Taxpayers Party line. In all, about 16 percent of Paladino’s vote came from third parties.

This year, Astorino already has the Conservative Party ballot line, which means that the Republican Party’s share of the vote will be lower than Astorino’s total. In fact, it could be worse than the previous gubernatorial cycle. Astorino is polling about 10 points below Paladino’s 2010 results. Furthermore, Tea Party activists are far more disenchanted with the GOP today than they were in their heady 2010 days, and voting Conservative provides a convenient avenue for protest. So, if the WFP can field a credible candidate and keep itself tied with Astorino, its chances of a top-two result will be extremely good.

The WFP has a tough decision ahead, torn between activists who see a golden opportunity to bolster their party’s profile and its union funders, worried that challenging Cuomo would hurt their business with the state. But if they truly stand for what they claim to represent, it’s a no-brainer: Recruit that credible challenger, put him on the WFP ballot line and — for good measure — have that candidate challenge Cuomo in the Democratic primary.

Cuomo has earned the enmity and anger of the progressive base. Catering to the hedge fund crowd isn’t as popular as some Democrats still think it is. But if an intraparty fight has the benefit of also taking out Republicans as collateral damage, then that’s a win all around.

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.