New York Governor's Race Heats Up

The Republican candidate for governor of New York almost came to blows with a reporter this week. Carl Paladino got in the tussle after objecting to the way a newspaper had covered his personal life. That incident is the latest in a race that has turned ugly and personal. The atmosphere has even rattled front-runner Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

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And now to a different sort of shake-up - in the New York governor's race, where the Republican candidate, Carl Paladino, nearly came to blows with a reporter this week.

NPR's Robert Smith has the details.

ROBERT SMITH: Most candidates try not to lose their cool. But Republican Carl Paladino wears his anger like a campaign button.

Mr. CARL PALADINO (R-NY, Gubernatorial Candidate): They say I'm too blunt. Well, I am - and I don't apologize for it.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SMITH: In his quest to become governor, Paladino usually rages against health-care reform, high taxes, dysfunctional state government. Now, all of a sudden, he was letting loose his anger on another person - and a reporter for the New York Post, no less.

Mr. FRED DICKER (Reporter, New York Post): You first made the charge.

Mr. PALADINO: You send another goon to my daughter's house and I'll take you out, buddy.

Mr. DICKER: You're going to take me out?

Mr. PALADINO: Yeah.

Mr. DICKER: How are you going to do that?

Mr. PALADINO: Watch.

SMITH: Another candidate might have come back and apologized, but not Paladino. With a little swagger, he argued last night that the Post reporter, Fred Dicker, had sent cameras to take pictures of his 10-year-old daughter, and he was simply being a protective dad. And as for that threat? Paladino explained to the TV station New York One what it means to quote, take somebody out.

Mr. PALADINO: I've been using that phrase since the beginning of the campaign. I said, I'm going to take out the trash; I'm going to take out this government; I'm going to take out the other trash in Albany. And I hold guys like Mr. Dicker as part of that trash.

SMITH: That kind of anger has been a defining tactic of the Tea Party movement, which supports Paladino. The millionaire businessman from Buffalo captured the frustration of upstate residents, who have been hit hard by the recession. And he used that anger to surprise the Republican establishment in this state, and win the primary.

Mr. PALADINO: The liberal elite, they're still calling me every name in the book. They say I'm an angry man - and that's true. We're all angry.

SMITH: Paladino's Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, also used to be known for his quick temper. He was always ready to hit back when he was working for the campaigns of his father, Mario Cuomo. But now, Andrew practices an almost Zen-like approach to campaigning: calm, serious, barely confrontational. This week, he had to justify not being angry enough.

Mr. ANDREW CUOMO (Democratic Candidate, New York Governor): You know, anger -anger only takes you so far, right? They don't really want someone to yell with them. They want someone to hear what they are saying, but then do something about it.

SMITH: Still, it's undeniable that a little ire has its political advantages. Cuomo's overconfident campaign got a shock recently when at least one poll showed Paladino within six points of him. And all of a sudden this week, Cuomo was up and engaging Paladino for the first time.

Mr. CUOMO: Look at this ticket that is being run, and you have an extremist, out-of-touch platform - and New Yorkers have to know about it.

SMITH: And as for the Republican, Paladino, the angry rhetoric has allowed him to defend and survive one scandal after another. Paladino admitted, for instance, having an affair, and a child out of wedlock. But after the tabloids started to run with it, Paladino lashed out. He blamed the media, and then he insinuated that Cuomo may have had affairs too, back before he was divorced.

Post reporter Fred Dicker was asking about that unfounded allegation when the big confrontation started. So the question remains: With the video of an angry Paladino all over TV and the Internet, is there a limit to how much outrage the public can stomach?

New York's current Democratic governor, David Paterson, says he actually sympathizes with Paladino. He, too, has tussled with reporters over rumors of affairs. But he told radio station WOR that the confrontation, in the end, hurts the Republican.

Governor DAVID PATTERSON (Democrat, New York): It sounds to me as if he's having trouble coping with the pressure that it takes to be a governor, or to run for governor.

SMITH: But that same confrontation looks different from the more conservative districts of New York. Mark Barrie, chairman of the Upstate New York Tea Party, says that Paladino's in-your-face style resonates with a lot of people.

Mr. MARK BARRIE (Chairman, Upstate New York Tea Party): Yes, civility would be nice. But in times of war - and this is definitely a political war - that goes by the wayside fairly quickly.

SMITH: The willingness to fight, Barrie says, is why they supported him in the first place.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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