The Latest On N.Y. Races For Governor, Senate

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times about the race for the New York governor's office and the U.S. Senate. In the governors' race, Democrat and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is competing with Republican and Tea Party favorite Carl Paladino. In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who stood in for Hillary Clinton two years ago, is running against Joe DioGuardi, an accountant and self-described "citizen activist."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

We've been checking in on this year's big contested races for Senate and governor. And today we're going to hear about New York State, where because of a special election, both incumbent Democratic senators are on the ballot and the governorship is also up this year.

And joining us to talk about those races is Nicholas Confessore, political reporter for The New York Times. Welcome to the program once again.

Mr. NICHOLAS CONFESSORE (Political Reporter, The New York Times): Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And one race, we should say, seems to be out of reach for the Republican challenger, Jay Townsend does not seem to be given Democrat Charles Schumer much of a race. But the other, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed to fill the vacancy left by Hillary Clinton when she became secretary of state, is being challenged by Joe DioGuardi. And that looks reasonably close, we think?

Mr. CONFESSORE: Well, it's not reasonably close yet but it's not out of - you know, out of control yet, either. A few polls have put them within a few points of each other. I think a more accurate reading of the race in certain other polls would be that there may be 10, 15 points apart. But thats probably a bit further than her opponent, Joe DioGuardi, thought when he got into the race.

SIEGEL: And if you could sum up what that race is about, can one do that in a nutshell?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONFESSORE: You can. I mean, on the one hand, you have Kristen Gillibrand who was appointed to her seat. She was regarded as an opportunity for Republicans to pick up a rare Senate seat in a blue state. And what was amazing was that it was very hard for Republicans to find somebody to go up against her. A lot of a big names considered it and bowed out.

And finally, there was kind of a free for all contests between a couple of Republican candidates. And lo and behold, on primary day, Joe DioGuardi came out ahead. And it wasnt just close, he was well ahead.

And so he seemed to be picking up some of that energy from the Tea Party movement. He has the support of the conservative party in New York State. He also has the support of a new party called the Taxpayers Party, which of course is the same party that the candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, has started for his own campaign. So you see a bit of Tea Party energy in this race.

SIEGEL: Now, both DioGuardi and the incumbent, Kirsten Gillibrand, are running very much as outsiders. Here are a couple of clips from some of their commercials. First, Gillibrand.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Senator KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-New York, Senatorial Candidate): I haven't been in Washington long but I've been there long enough to know that things are broken. Thats why I've made transparency and accountability a top priority.

SIEGEL: And, of course, before she was in the Senate, she was in the House of Representatives, as was Joe DioGuardi at one time. But in one of his commercials, he says if you're looking accountability he's your man. He's an accountant.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Mr. JOE DIOGUARDI (R-New York, Senatorial Candidate): Im a certified public accountant running for the U.S. Senate, to get spending under control and to stop this credit card madness thats costing us jobs and the American dream. Im Joe DioGuardi and I approve this message.

SIEGEL: So both candidates want to come to Washington to clean up the mess here.

Mr. CONFESSORE: Well, it's fascinating that fiscal issues have kind of taken the fore in this race and many others across the country. Social issues are not really in the forefront here; same-sex marriage is not a big issue, abortion is not a big issue. It's about spending.

SIEGEL: Now, onto the governor's race. Democrat David Paterson, the incumbent who succeeded the disgraced Eliot Spitzer, is not running for election. So it's Democrat Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney general, against Republican Carl Paladino.

Mr. CONFESSORE: That's correct. So in one corner, you have a Democrat who is as well-known as any Democrat in the country, and this is Andrew Cuomo. And in the other corner, you have a candidate who, I would assume that most New Yorkers had never heard of until he won his party's primary. And again, it wasnt just a little bit. He crushed the former Congressman Rick Lazio in the Republican primary.

And so, what we have here is a candidate who was behind but who has a lot of energy - Carl Paladino. And a candidate, Andrew Cuomo, who was long regarded as the inevitable next governor, who now has to wonder if he can really counterattack against a guy with some energy and some grassroots support on the right.

SIEGEL: And again, it's all about spending and state finances?

Mr. CONFESSORE: Thats correct. And in fact, Andrew Cuomo is running mostly on a platform of getting the famously dysfunctional state capital in New York, Albany, under control - both in terms of its spending, which keep growing beyond inflation almost every year in the past decade, and in terms of the ethics and dysfunction of the process there.

Whats interesting is that Andrew Cuomo is both kind of running as a reform candidate as an outsider, but of course, he is the consummate insider. He is a member of a political dynasty in New York. And so, all of a sudden he faces a contender who's sort of a more genuine or true outsider in the conventional sense, Carl P. Paladino, who is a Buffalo business who was a protest candidate a few weeks ago, and then suddenly a major party's candidate for governor.

SIEGEL: And Rick Lazio, who is the object of that protest and who lost in the primary, today got completely out of the race by giving up the spot on the conservative party ballot line.

Mr. CONFESSORE: Yes. And that was actually hugely important for Carl Paladino because not since the 1970s has a Republican candidate for statewide office won, without having the conservative line in New York State. It's hugely important for Republicans. There was a question for a while as to whether Rick Lazio would stay in the race as the conservative candidate.

He decided to back out and there will be some kind of a legal maneuver where he'll be taken off the ballot. And presumably, Paladino will be placed on the ballot. He'll then have both the conservative line and the GOP line.

SIEGEL: Well, Nicholas Confessore, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. CONFESSORE: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Nicholas Confessore, political reporter of The New York Times, spoke to us from New York City.

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