With time running out in the race for Governor, Carl McCall and Tom Golisano are unveiling the endgame strategies that they hope will do something to stop George Pataki’s seemingly inexorable march towards re-election.
Mr. McCall, whose campaign is nearly broke, plans to rely heavily on high-profile surrogates, especially Bill and Hillary Clinton. The McCall camp, which has mostly used the Clintons for fund-raising until now, is now making up for lost time, enlisting them to campaign extensively with the candidate at events around the state.
Meanwhile, Mr. Golisano, who is very, very rich, will continue to saturate the New York advertising market: In the next few days, The Observer has learned, the Rochester billionaire will continue his Albany-outsider campaign by launching upwards of $3 million worth of television ads within days attacking the Governor for driving up homeowners’ taxes through a series of “sweetheart deals” he made with powerful union leader Dennis Rivera. He’ll spend another $1.5 million on mailings assaulting the Rivera-Pataki deal-even as he takes a cue from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful Mayoral campaign last year by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads in Hispanic niche markets.
“This is the crucial part of the campaign where you have to pick one strategy, because there isn’t time or room for multiple approaches,” said former Governor Mario Cuomo. “McCall has to get 40 percent of the vote by maximizing his strong New York City potential. Golisano has to maximize his virginity as a politician. Pataki has to hope that Golisano loses his virginity and that McCall’s predictable support doesn’t show up in the numbers he needs. And Pataki should say a silent prayer of thanks that the race is ending when it does.”
Mr. McCall’s strategy of emphasizing in-person appearances is not being adopted entirely by choice. His campaign is virtually broke; it has been kept afloat in part thanks to a series of loans from Dennis Mehiel, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Worse, he is up against not one, but two well-financed opponents. Mr. Golisano’s ads have been ubiquitous in the city. At the same time, Mr. McCall must contend with Mr. Pataki’s well-funded, multipronged ad strategy, which has made it possible for the Governor to tailor his message to a host of different constituencies throughout the state.
“If you watch TV in the city, you hear about Democrats endorsing Pataki,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. “If you watch Cable 12 on Long Island, you hear about McCall’s support for a commuter tax. And if you watch upstate TV, you see a custom-made ad about economic development, each one mentioning your hometown.”
Mr. McCall doesn’t have the resources to combat that strategy on the air. Instead, he will rely on retail campaigning, get-out-the-vote operations staffed by volunteers and union members, and lots of stumping with people who attract more attention than he’s managed to get on his own.
At a recent event that Mr. McCall did with Mrs. Clinton at a subway stop on East 23rd Street during evening rush hour, pedestrians ran a gauntlet of TV cameras, campaign staffers and union volunteers to get to Mrs. Clinton, who dutifully steered them to Mr. McCall, standing next to her. The event was a rollicking success, as these things go, generating what were certainly bigger crowds of both spectators and reporters than the McCall campaign has been used to attracting at campaign events.
McCall aides have mapped out a schedule for the remainder of the campaign that will ensure that the Comptroller will be accompanied more or less constantly by Mrs. Clinton or her husband. The former President, for example, is scheduled to do no fewer than six events with Mr. McCall in the next few days, including rallies all across the city, a fancy fund-raiser on Wall Street and a party in a trendy nightclub.
The McCall campaign also hopes that their surrogates will help them gain support among black and Latino Democrats. Although Mr. McCall stands to make history as New York’s first black Governor, his cautious campaign has failed to arouse the sort of visible enthusiasm in minority communities thus far as did last year’s Mayoral campaign of Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. And so the campaign is also planning events with celebrities like Puffy Combs, Russell Simmons, Ashanti and Jay-Z, and they hope to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of its scant campaign funds to buy advertising on urban radio stations.
Mr. McCall’s supporters predict a late surge, even as they lament the campaign’s material disadvantages. “This has been a very challenging race, with two extraordinarily well-funded candidates running, and with Mr. Pataki receiving an incredible amount of support from the national Republican Party which seems to be missing on the Democratic side,” said Roberto Ramirez, a McCall consultant and an architect of Mr. Ferrer’s 2001 Mayoral campaign. “In spite of all that, I think this is an extremely competitive race. I think as it comes down to the wire, you will see tremendous energy and enthusiasm.”
Mr. Golisano’s set of challenges is entirely different. Unlike Mr. McCall, whose party holds a massive voter-registration advantage over the Republicans, he has virtually no political base. Also unlike Mr. McCall, he has billions of dollars at his disposal. He is well on his way to spending a promised $100 million on the campaign, and he’s managed to attract the prospective support of as many as 20 percent of likely voters, according to one recent poll. While his increase in support has come at the expense of both Mr. Pataki and Mr. McCall, the Governor has borne the brunt of Mr. Golisano’s assaults.
Mr. Golisano’s latest ad, a copy of which was obtained by The Observer , focuses on the contract deal between Mr. Pataki and Mr. Rivera that provided a record $1.8 billion in raises to New York’s health-care workers. “The billion-dollar sweetheart deal George Pataki made with the health-care workers’ union boss is driving state Medicaid costs through the roof …. Pataki’s deal has driven property taxes to 63 percent higher than the national average,” goes the commercial, different versions of which will air in various markets statewide, according to Golisano aides.
In past campaigns, Mr. Golisano peaked before the end, ultimately winning 4 percent during his first gubernatorial run in 1994 and 7 percent during his second. But he is spending much more money this time, and Mr. Golisano’s expensive team of consultants is finding new and innovative ways to spend that money every day.
Just as Mr. Bloomberg saturated small ethnic niche publications around the city during last year’s Mayoral campaign, Mr. Golisano plans to spend $1.5 million over the last two weeks in Hispanic markets, where polls have shown a corresponding increase in his support. Golisano aides say there will be a virtually constant stream of ads in Hispanic publications and on Hispanic radio and TV between now and Election Day. Latino voters are up for grabs in this contest: While they make up a crucial part of Mr. McCall’s coalition, Mr. Pataki has already made successful inroads. And now Mr. Golisano wants his piece.
While the campaign has tightened-polls several months ago showed Mr. Pataki with a 30-point lead over Mr. McCall-neither Mr. McCall nor Mr. Golisano has managed to inflict any devastating political wounds upon the Governor. Both candidates have spent time trying to call attention to Mr. Pataki’s shortcomings on policy and, more recently, to allegations of ethical lapses in his administration. One case is a burgeoning scandal involving a member of the state corrections department who augmented his salary by providing “volunteers”-corrections officers-to the Pataki campaign. The other case is an older one involving parole being granted to the son of a Pataki contributor, allegedly at the request of the Governor’s office. Despite the seriousness of the allegations, the Governor seems barely inconvenienced.
“It’s harder to punch through when you get into the clutter of the closing weeks,” said Mr. Miringoff.
As long as his cushion in the poll remains, Mr. Pataki will continue to remain blissfully detached from the unseemly business of actual campaigning. While the campaign has gone on the attack-negative ads, the daily parry-and-thrust between campaign spokespeople-they have managed to give the appearance of not being in a race at all. Mr. Pataki’s public schedule is still crowded with “government” events (as opposed to campaign events), in which he appears with smiling constituents to announce that he has come through with state money for their group, that he has signed a bill to advance their cause, or that he intends to build something nice for them. And even his campaign events give the impression of leisure: Before a recent event in which he rode a boat down the Hudson River with local officials, a smiling Mr. Pataki joked that he was doing it to provide the working press with a well deserved day out on the water.
“He will stay within his Teflon mode,” said Raymond Harding, the head of the state Liberal Party. “He’ll do his aw-shucks, Jimmy Stewart style and hope that the electorate doesn’t wake up prior to Nov. 5.