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Gubernatorial Candidates Are a Motley Crew
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A former madam and a candidate who named his party "Rent is 2 Damn High" are among the seven candidates set to engage for the first time in a debate on Long Island in the race to be New York's next governor.

Democratic front-runner Andrew Cuomo and tea party-backed Republican Carl Paladino may not debate again after Monday's televised debate at Hofstra University, underscoring the importance of the meeting in one of the nastiest campaigns in recent decades.

Also in the 90-minute debate are Charles Barron of the Freedom Party; Kristin Davis, the former "Manhattan madam," of the Anti-Prohibition Party; Howie Hawkins of the Green Party; Jimmy McMillan of the Rent is 2 Damn High Party; and Warren Redlich of the Libertarian Party.

"It will be a free-for-all," predicted Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll.

In terms of traditional strategy, he said, Cuomo will have to avoid saying anything that will become the main topic of conversation the following day.

"He has to be invisible and stay on message," Miringoff said Monday, adding that Paladino has a "second chance to make a first impression."

Paladino's poll numbers have been slipping since late September, when he was caught on video loudly arguing with a reporter over Paladino's unsubstantiated claim that Cuomo had extramarital affairs. And he has apologized for forwarding racist and sexist e-mails.

"Despite it being the ninth inning, he has to give his voters something to show he is a credible candidate, which he clearly has not been able to pull off so far," Miringoff said. "He needs to show he can stay focused on issues because everyone is expecting the personal vitriol."

Larry Levy, a news commentator and head of Hofstra's suburban studies center, said it would be a mistake for viewers to ignore the minor party candidates.

"Most of them are serious people who are running on serious issues and I think they have a healthy respect and commitment to their issues," he said.

"You will see some signs of political inexperience, but I don't think they are going to try to make fools of themselves," he said. "They care too much about their issues."

Hawkins, for example, has long been committed to environmental and social justice advocacy and has detailed and innovative proposals. He has campaigned hard to get the vote of rank-and-file union members who he feels aren't in step with union leaders backing Cuomo.

Barron, an experienced black politician, poses a threat to Cuomo for black voters. Barron has railed against a lack of a racial minority or woman on the Democratic ticket.

Davis' platform is based on her concern that the powerful major parties are eroding individual rights. She wants to decriminalize marijuana and legalize and regulate prostitution, as in Nevada, which she said will limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and provide millions of dollars in tax revenue while improving public safety.

Redlich, who says he wants government to get out of New Yorkers' lives, is in a fight with Paladino for the tea party vote.

McMillan has run for office before, raising attention about New York City's diminishing middle class, who have been driven away by housing costs.

"I understand democracy and I realize all these people got on the ballot, but as a voter what I really want to see is a debate between Cuomo and Paladino," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll.

He estimates that the format could mean each candidate will have as little as 10 minutes of air time.

"There's certainly a potential for a circus, but I would hope these candidates could keep it together," he said.

The debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be carried on cable television and on National Public Radio.