N.Y. Democrats await possible bombshell about Gov. Paterson’s personal life

New York Democrats are confident that any revelations about Gov. David Paterson’s (D) personal life won’t damage their 2010 electoral prospects.

“Things that are interesting in February, generally, are not quite as interesting six or eight months later,” said Jay Jacobs, chairman of the New York State Democratic Party. “Even Tiger Woods is off the front pages.”

Both of New York’s Senate seats and its governor’s mansion are up this year, while several House districts are considered battlegrounds.

{mosads}The New York Times is said to be preparing a profile of Paterson to run sometime this week. There has been speculation the piece will contain details about Paterson’s personal life that would result in his resignation.

A Paterson spokeswoman strongly denied the governor was planning to resign.

“The circus of the past week — entirely fabricated out of thin air and innuendo — is an embarrassment for all who have played a role in feeding it.

Rumors of resignation and scandal are just that — rumors,” said Paterson spokeswoman Marissa Shorenstein. “The governor has not engaged in any inappropriate or illegal behavior and suggestions to the contrary are entirely false and deeply irresponsible. This is a new low, even by the standards of Planet Albany. Gov. Paterson is the governor today, he will be the governor tomorrow and he will win reelection this fall.”

A spokesman for the Times declined to comment.

But the suggestion that another New York Democrat would be forced from office by personal scandal has strategists worried.

“It’d be very tough to have to go through this again,” said Rodney Capel, a New York-based Democratic strategist. “You don’t want to have another situation where it looks like the governor was unable to complete their term because of some issues of infidelity and what have you.”

Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) resigned from office in disgrace in March 2008 in the wake of a Times report linking him with a prostitution ring. Paterson, who was the lieutenant governor at the time, took over for Spitzer.

So far, Republicans have shied away from using the rumors as a political cudgel.

Former Rep. Rick Lazio, the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee, was largely sympathetic to Paterson’s plight.

“The rumors about the governor are a sad reflection of Albany politics,” Lazio said in a statement. “No public official deserves to be the subject of over a week of innuendo and nasty speculation. If The New York Times is working on or has a story, then they should confirm or print it. If they do not, then they have an obligation to stop this rumor-mongering right now.”

Lazio sent a letter to New York Times executive editor Bill Keller on Monday, urging him to “confirm or print” any story. He wrote that if there were no story, then the Times has “a moral obligation to stop the drama and the psychological warfare on Gov. Paterson.”

Without mentioning Paterson’s difficulties, Republicans are expressing optimism about their chances in New York.

“This is a good environment,” said Republican strategist Mike DuHaime, citing Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) win in New Jersey last year and Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) win in Massachusetts. “It’s shaping up nicely for Republicans.”

DuHaime said New York Democrats had lost some of their luster in recent years.

“I think the Democrat brand is suffering a bit, but it is somewhat isolated to certain individuals in New York,” DuHaime said.

Privately, Republicans say it doesn’t matter what happens with Paterson because they never expected to face him in the general. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) has long been expected to challenge Paterson for the nomination. Observers expect that if Cuomo runs, he will emerge as the Democratic nominee.

Cuomo, the son of the former governor, has not formally declared his candidacy but has raised $16 million and leads Paterson in the polls.

If Paterson does have to resign, Democrats will be able to distance Cuomo from Paterson, said Capel.

“Andrew Cuomo and the governor, I think it’s pretty clear to voters that those aren’t the same folks,” he said. “I think there’s a strong enough structure for the Dems to be able to replace the governor if that is, at the end of the day, what happens.”

But Washington Republicans say Paterson’s personal foibles are just another headache for a party grappling with voters’ anxieties about the economy.

“A Paterson candidacy, or a Paterson bombshell, either way New York Democrats are in trouble,” one Republican strategist said on background.

Democrats have fretted for some time now that Paterson would be a drag on the party in an important election year. The White House even got involved in trying to push him aside. Last year it used unnamed officials to urge him publicly not to run.

Republicans want to break the Democratic hold on New York, targeting freshman Democratic Reps. Mike McMahon, Scott Murphy and Eric Massa, who hold GOP-leaning districts.

Meanwhile, appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is fighting to keep her seat as she faces a possible primary challenge from former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.). Paterson appointed Gillibrand to the Senate after Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of State.

{mosads}Democrats fear that a weak gubernatorial nominee would dampen turnout, Jacobs admitted.

“Democrats would stay home, Republicans would be enthused, they’d come out, and the results would speak for themselves,” he said. “That’s not what you’re going to find this year. Every congressional race that is contested is going to bring voters out. 

“As long as in Washington the Democrats have made a compelling case to motivate the Democratic base, our vote will come out,” he said.

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