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Paterson's Bumpy Road

Paterson's Bumpy Road

By Kyle Trygstad - February 19, 2009

Almost one year since taking over as the Chief Executive of New York State, Governor David Paterson has seen his standing among voters decline dramatically. Paterson has recently been taking heat for a range of issues, including his widely panned handling of choosing a replacement for Senator Hillary Clinton and the Empire State's current budget trouble.

According to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, Paterson's favorability rating has dipped below 50 percent for the first time since just after taking office -- when almost half of voters didn't know enough to form an opinion of him. Now that most people know Paterson, less than half have a favorable opinion of him or approve of the job he's doing as governor.

Paterson's 41 percent favorability and 45 percent job approval ratings put a serious damper on the high hopes voters had for Paterson when he took over for the disgraced Eliot Spitzer. Upon assuming office in March 2008, three-fourths of voters felt Paterson could govern effectively, and two-thirds felt he would restore public trust in state government.

Now, many New York headlines are merely tracking Paterson's missteps, and private groups are running ads criticizing his proposed budget cuts. Recent polling found that two-thirds of voters had seen such ads, and while seven in ten New Yorkers think the state's budget problems are very serious, just 36 percent think Paterson is handling them well.

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While Paterson's re-election hopes in 2010 certainly haven't vanished, polling suggests he could have serious trouble -- and his greatest competition to reclaim the governor's post could come from within his own party. Quinnipiac found Paterson trailing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic primary matchup 55 percent to 23 percent -- a more than two-to-one deficit for an incumbent.

Cuomo, whose approval ratings are sky high, is currently putting forth a plan to consolidate state government -- making it more efficient while lowering its cost. That sounds, at least on its surface, like a plan that voters may be inclined to support.

While Cuomo hasn't said publicly that he's even somewhat interested in the top job in the state, his recent actions seem to indicate that he is. Cuomo is currently making the rounds, outlining his consolidation plan to groups around the state whose support he may need for a bid. At a New York State Conservative Party gathering outside Albany last week, the New York Observer reported seeing Cuomo "posing for pictures with attendees -- most of whom are the party faithful of an organization that tipped the balance in the 1994 loss of his father Mario Cuomo to George Pataki -- as he walked out of the room."

Cuomo's past disregard for upsetting party establishment may also be a clue that he'd be willing to take on an incumbent Democrat. In his first run for office in 2002, Cuomo -- against the wishes of New York Democratic Party insiders and elected officials -- challenged fellow Democrat H. Carl McCall in the Democratic primary for governor. After a period of negotiations, Cuomo eventually dropped out a week before the September primary and backed McCall. The son of a former governor and the HUD secretary under President Clinton, Cuomo also considered running for Senate in 2000 before deferring to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Were Paterson to come out of the primary victorious, his re-election path could still remain bumpy. Rudy Giuliani, a former presidential candidate and two-term mayor of New York City, is rumored to be interested in a bid. In a head-to-head matchup, Quinnipiac found Paterson and Giuliani tied at 43 percent apiece, while Cuomo leads Giuliani 51 percent to 37 percent.

Four years ago this month, Republican Gov. George Pataki received the lowest approval ratings of his three-term governorship, while his potential challenger, then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, enjoyed approval ratings above 60 percent. Five months later Pataki announced he would not run for re-election.

Likewise, Paterson is now facing his lowest approval ratings as governor, while the attorney general, a potential challenger, has an approval rating of 76 percent. No one believes Paterson will step aside anytime soon, if ever; He still hasn't seen his first budget passed by the Legislature and has more than a year to right the ship. But if the next twelve months are as bumpy as the first twelve, Governor Paterson will find himself in a very difficult re-election campaign.

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Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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