The Island of Paladino: For Republicans, It’s Every Man for Himself, as Democrats Unite

On Monday afternoon, having finally crossed the finish line of the Columbus Day parade–after 25 blocks of battling with reporters, hugging well-wishers and ignoring loud hecklers–Carl Paladino was strolling along East 72nd Street when a man stopped him.

“Welcome to New York!” said Councilman Dan Halloran from Queens, a fellow Republican. “Love having you here, love having you here.”

“Thank you, thanks,” said Mr. Paladino, who seemed to enjoy the brief respite from a grueling day that began with a circuit of early-morning talk show appearances, in which he was asked to explain his comments that children were being “brainwashed” into a gay lifestyle that was less than “valid.”

Mr. Halloran gave Mr. Paladino a hearty hug–a surprising embrace, given that Mr. Halloran had staunchly supported Rick Lazio throughout the party’s primary.

“The G.O.P.’s behind you,” Mr. Halloran told him. “We’re behind you. One hundred percent.”

While the Republican establishment, led by the state chairman, Ed Cox, has rallied behind the party’s unexpected standard-bearer–championing him as it might any other nominee–the candidates running alongside Mr. Paladino have generally done their best to maintain a safe distance from his campaign.

Since the primary, Mr. Cox has become one of Mr. Paladino’s staunchest defenders, even as the unorthodox campaign has lurched from controversy to controversy–a near-fight with a reporter; a televised commercial citing Andrew Cuomo’s “prowess”; and, on Sunday, the disparaging comments about gays, which caused a nationwide commotion and earned the disapprobation of editorial boards across New York City.

Mr. Cox responded to the latest controversy with a statement saying the party “condemns any remarks that can be construed as homophobic,” but added that Mr. Paladino “is more than capable of speaking for himself.”

Mr. Paladino’s running mates were less demure.

“Any statements of this nature are offensive,” wrote Republican attorney general candidate Dan Donovan in a statement emailed to reporters. “We should be fostering a dialogue on tolerance. These statements do not achieve that, and I do not agree with them.”

“I do not condone intolerance of any kind and categorically reject these hurtful statements,” said the Republican comptroller candidate, Harry Wilson, in a statement that urged all candidates to focus on economic issues.

Republican candidates at every level, and even former mayor Rudy Giuliani, issued statements denouncing the comments, as the video of Mr. Paladino’s speech played ad nauseam on cable news.

“He’s killing everybody,” said a Republican consultant working on several down-ballot races, who was concerned about Mr. Paladino’s effect. “The worst thing that he’s doing is changing the subject. The subject that Republicans are winning on across the country this year is overtaxing, overspending and debt. Every poll in America is saying that. And now we’re walking around talking about Speedo bathing suits.”

Mr. Donovan and Mr. Wilson, among other candidates, have tried to cast themselves as separate and apart from the perpetual controversy that surrounds the top of their ticket. Mr. Donovan–until yesterday–had mostly deflected questions about Mr. Paladino, by invoking his status as a sitting district attorney; Mr. Wilson has said he is “solely focused” on his own race.

And both have actively promoted their cross-party appeal, in the hopes of attracting potential ticket-splitters. Both accepted the endorsement of the proudly nonpartisan Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Mr. Donovan kicked off his post-primary campaign with an endorsement from Democrat Ed Koch, who, like Mr. Bloomberg, happens to be supporting Mr. Cuomo for governor. Mr. Wilson has openly praised Mr. Cuomo’s fiscal plan, and touted his own tenure on President Obama’s Auto Task Force.

The challenge for those sharing a ballot line with Mr. Paladino is how to stay at arm’s length without alienating the legions of deeply devoted supporters who propelled the Buffalo developer to an overwhelming victory in one of the highest-turnout primaries in the party’s history.

“You need to change the equation, and Paladino definitely changes the equation,” said one Republican operative, who hopes Mr. Paladino will stimulate G.O.P. turnout without sufficiently motivating Democrats to come out against him. “On the flip side, he is so toxic that he might depress turnout in certain places.”

For their part, Mr. Wilson has conceded he might stand with Mr. Paladino at campaign events, and a spokesman for Mr. Donovan told The Wall Street Journal that the campaign “welcomes the votes of anyone who believes that New Yorkers deserve a government free of corruption and dysfunction, one that works for the people, not against them.”

“You can’t afford to turn the wrath of the Tea Party movement on your candidate,” said one consultant.

For Mr. Paladino, the other candidates seem to be an afterthought, if he thinks of them at all.

A few minutes before he ran into Mr. Halloran on Monday, Mr. Paladino shrugged off a suggestion that his over-the-top campaign might be dividing the ticket and, perhaps, the party.

“My two running mates have denounced my remarks?” Mr. Paladino told a scrum of reporters after the parade. “So what? I don’t care.”

On Sunday, after telling a group of rabbis that he would adhere to a decree of the Central Rabbinical Congress, which calls for Orthodox Jews not to support candidates who promote “immorality”–as defined by a certain conservative sect of rabbis–Mr. Paladino did not much care whether that stance might apply to his running mates, who have been slightly more politic on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

“You heard my statement, that’s right where it stands. Right there,” Mr. Paladino said during a brisk walk from the synagogue to his car. Asked if he was bothered by his running mates’ unwillingness to fully embrace him, Mr. Paladino said: “That’s life.”

Several consultants working on Republican races said they never hear from Mr. Paladino’s campaign. “Nothing whatsoever. None of the campaigns do,” said one consultant.

And so, the Republican ticket remains largely a leaderless, every-man-for-himself enterprise, even as the Democratic ticket finally begins to band together.

Last week, Mr. Cuomo announced that his office was no longer investigating his own running mate, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, though the attorney general was coy on whether he would actually offer an endorsement, given an ongoing investigation into the comptroller’s office.

“It’s not about anything he can or can’t do; it’s about the situation,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters after finishing the parade route a few minutes ahead of Mr. Paladino.

While Mr. DiNapoli would surely welcome official validation from the top of the ticket, the lack of an investigation paves the way for a coordinated campaign, complete with shared literature and hand-holding shows of unity.

“The fact is that everyone is working together,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a former operative, who said he was “actively involved with all the candidates at the top of the ticket.”

“There’s a very powerful operation being put together to draw the vote out on Election Day, and there’s a real sense of urgency. So I think when it comes to working together for the outcome, that is happening,” Mr. de Blasio said.

“I think if what Paladino has said in the last few days–if that doesn’t say to Democrats there’s a reason to come out and vote, and there’s a reason to take a stand, I don’t know what would.”

rpillifant@observer.com The Island of Paladino: For Republicans, It’s Every Man for Himself, as Democrats Unite