Over breakfast at the Evergreen Diner on Monday morning, Carl Paladino was scrolling through the “Andrew Cuomo” Google alert on his iPad when he looked up to see a television report on Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.
O’Donnell and Paladino share some obvious similarities: they’re both self-proclaimed Tea Partiers, both won surprising victories over the party establishment last Tuesday, and both have some past behavior they’re hoping voters will ignore come November. For Paladino, it’s racist and pornographic emails he forwarded to friends; for O’Donnell, it’s dabbling in witchcraft (among other things).
“She’s getting a lot of p.r., isn’t she?” he said with a laugh. Paladino said he didn’t know much about O’Donnell and had only read “bits and pieces.”
“I saw the guy she was running against. He was just this side of plant life,” he said.
Another reporter mentioned that O’Donnell was also having to answer for some old PSAs about masturbation.
“Don’t put any ideas in my head,” Paladino joked.
But unlike O’Donnell, who hastily canceled several national television appearances after the old videos surfaced, and some other Tea Party candidates, who have literally run away from reporters, Paladino is just fine with talking about his transgressions, and why they have so far failed to sink him.
“You guys live in a different world than those people out there,” he said, motioning to the glass windows. “That stuff goes all over. That internet is wild with this stuff. Everybody. And they sit there and they say, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know it was so bad to send those things around.'”
As Paladino laughed, his campaign manager, Michael Caputo, chimed in.
“The first thing we did was put a Democrat political operative, investigator on Carl. Everything he found, we polled, did focus groups,” said Caputo, who specializes in crisis public relations.
“We found that 70 percent of Republican men said that they had received or forwarded the same. And that 55 percent of the general electorate males had done the same thing.
“We also found that the wives of those men thought it was stupid, but they didn’t think it was a disqualifier, as a person. So when it was released that these things happened, one of the first things we did was put Cathy out there to say, you know, what she felt about it. And what she felt was, ‘How stupid are you, Carl?'”
Caputo was referencing a Buffalo News story that featured Paladino’s wife, Cathy, rebutting the charges of racism–an interview suggested and arranged by the campaign shortly after their disclosure. The campaign also put out a video by Paladino’s daughter defending him against the charge, and another one last week, featuring former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas.
Last month one consultant told me he thought the emails made Paladino “unelectable,” but only if they were widely seen–in, say, a television ad. So far, they don’t seem to have disqualified Paladino, who surged in the Q poll this morning. But there’s still the possibility they could hurt him, now that he’s in the general election crosshairs, in a way he never was during his primary with Rick Lazio. State Democrats are using NSFG–“Not Suitable For Governor“–tag on their anti-Paladino website. And yesterday, some upstate NAACP groups held a rally in Albany with some of the racist images on oversized placards.
The campaign, it seems, is mostly unconcerned.
“We flushed that toilet, and we’ll flush it again if we have to,” Caputo told me last month.