It's tough to run a political race in competitive districts, especially for state democrats in a floundering economy. But one factor weighs more heavily on the shoulders of some candidates than the trials of the campaign trail: The name at the top of the ticket.
Increasingly, state Democrats are expressing concern that Gov. David Paterson is dragging them down, according to a published report. The governor's low approval numbers and recent missteps have raised questions about whether he should even run for re-election. And if he does run, state Democrats fear that his negative mojo could seep from the top down come election time.
Even though Paterson's woes have been played out in the capital, some fear the cacophony that has defined his statehouse creates a bad rep for party candidates vying for seats from Manhattan to upstate New York.
"Already we have a situation that is challenging," Rep. Dan Maffei, who won a Republican-held seat in Syracuse last year, told The New York Times. "We can't afford to get stuck in the mire of state politics."
Granted, the month-long stalemate that held state politics hostage following a Republican-backed coup was resolved, with Paterson's help. But the Democrats' majority remains a precarious one -- 32-30 -- and the catfights and harbored resentment that have since dominated the Senate floor resemble far more an atmosphere of "watch-your-back" than one of cohesive governance.
The ambiguous political climate even has Democratic leaders in Washington concerned about the future of their party. At least half a dozen congressional representatives face challenges in districts long dominated by Republicans -- and the candidates fear the party's woes could prompt voters to return to their roots, reports the Times.
Some political strategists don't blame candidates for being wary.
"Any Democrat running in 2010 has to be concerned about the governor's current poll numbers," Democratic political strategist Scott Levenson, a Paterson supporter, told the paper. "For those candidates running in competitive districts, to not be concerned would violate their own self-interest."
Despite concerns about his gubernatorial competency, Paterson hasn't wavered in his decision to run next year. Not surprisingly, suggestions that having his name on the ticket could threaten the chances of Democratic candidates throughout the region evoke a caustic response from his administration.
"These concerted attempts to undermine the governor, in the form of rumor-mongering, potshots and freelancing, do not service the people of the state well and certainly do not reflect well on those who are participating in it," spokeswoman Tracy Sefl told the Times. "No political sideshow will sway him from continuing to make decisions, however difficult, in the best interests of the people of New York."
But the governor's decisions are under relentless scrutiny. And missteps are publicized.
Last week, Paterson cancelled a special election for a Queens Assembly seat just hours after announcing it. The governor's office released a statement Friday announcing that a special election to fill the vacant seat of former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, who pleaded guilty to a charge of federal felony corruption, would be held Sept. 15.
"This special election will ensure that the residents in part of Queens County will have the representation they need in the New York State Legislation," Paterson said in a statement.
But a special election leaves the candidate selection up to party leaders, not the voters. Less than four hours after announcing the special election, Paterson's office repealed the statement, saying a primary election, which would let the public choose their representative, would likely be held instead. While most considered leaving the decision up to the people the right move, the four-hour flip-flop was merely another in a string of embarrassments that have maligned Paterson's administration.
"The guy just can't get out of his own way," one leading Democrat told the Daily News.
And party leaders fear the governor could get in their way come 2010.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has already said he may "have to run" for governor because of the state's political and economic climate. A challenge by such a high-profile Republican could energize the party and encourage wavering Democrats or Independents to vote in that column come Election Day.
Democrats' doomsday scenario: Voters check the Republican box all the way down the ticket.
Republicans are salivating at the opportunity to take back the six Congressional seats they lost in the last two state elections. And the poor economy supplants their campaign for a change in representation, especially in swing districts throughout the state.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says state Democrats are "focused on serving their constituents and representing their districts" to earn re-election regardless of who runs for governor, according to the Times.
But concern about Paterson's impact on the ticket transcends House races.
Democratic leaders have managed to create a clear path to the primary for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, thanks to a little help from the White House and Rep. Carolyn Maloney's last minute change of heart. But Paterson was the one who appointed Gillibrand to assume the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton in January, and Republicans are exploiting that connection. GOP leaders have been courting George Pataki to run against Gillibrand in 2010, banking on the idea he could be persuaded with Paterson at the Democratic helm.
Given the brewing skepticism surrounding their leader, many Democratic power players are looking to shake things up. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has consistently out-polled Paterson – both in terms of job approval and electoral viability.
"At this point, people are brainstorming about how to give the governor a dignified exit," one Democratic leader who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Times.
Obama's political director and a former key labor leader in New York, Patrick Gaspard, reportedly is keeping on eye on trends in state politics, which lends credence to the administration's interest in how the situation unfolds, according to the Times.