Political novice and tea party ally Carl Paladino shocked the Republican party designee Tuesday after forcing his way into the race for the nomination for New York governor.
With 88 percent of precincts reporting, Paladino had 63 percent of the vote to former Congressman Rick Lazio's 37 percent.
"Andrew Cuomo should strap himself into the seat with an extra seat-belt, Paladino said in an interview of his Democratic challenger.
Paladino, a millionaire Buffalo developer, rode a wave of voter anger on his way to delivering another blow to the GOP in a heavily Democratic state.
There was a deafening cheer in Paladino's Buffalo headquarters when it was announced The Associated Press had called the race for Paladino, who promises to "take a baseball bat" to dysfunctional government in Albany.
"If we've learned anything tonight, it's that New Yorkers are mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore!" Paladino said. "The people have spoken."
Paladino invoked Howard Beale, a fictional TV anchor in the 1976 movie "Network," who encourages his audience to stick their heads out their windows and shout, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
He then welcomed Republicans who opposed him to join "the people's crusade ... New Yorkers are fed up. Tonight the ruling class has seen it now ... there is a peoples' revolution."
After speaking for about 14 minutes, Paladino led the crowd in an a capella version of "God Bless America."
Paladino, 64, challenged his better funded and more popular Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, to debates. They'll go head to head at the polls in November.
Lazio wouldn't say if he would abandon a Conservative run for governor on the line he won Tuesday night. But such an effort hasn't been mounted for decades.
"We came up short and that is a disappointment," Lazio said in Manhattan. He said he embraces Paladino's platform of fiscal reform and said he wants to "be part of that effort .. . and this campaign continues in terms of the ideas and the spirit."
Paladino overcame early criticism and ridicule over sexist and racist e-mail jokes he once forwarded to friends and his description of the Democratic Assembly leader as being like an anti-Christ. Some of his programs fared also were critically received, including renovating prisons to provide jobs and "life lessons" including personal hygiene habits to welfare recipients, an idea he patterns after the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps.
John Faso, the 2006 Republican candidate for governor, said Paladino tapped "the feeling of dismay and discontent" among voters. "And in Carl Paladino, they had a perfect vehicle to voice that dissatisfaction," Faso told the local television news channel NY1.
Even state Republican Chairman Ed Cox, who had backed two candidates before embracing Paladino, called Paladino a tough competitor who would make a good governor.
Lazio, 52, hadn't conceded and was awaiting returns from all of Long Island, his base when he was a congressman.
As for Lazio, he was trounced upstate, where in his 2000 race for U.S. Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton he made the mistake of saying the region's economy had "turned the corner."
Paladino lost to Lazio at the state GOP convention but then petitioned his way to the primary by securing 30,000 Republican signatures statewide.
"I don't know if he wins if he'd beat Cuomo, but I hope he does," said Kenneth Bray, a 54-year-old woodworker from Buffalo. Bray's goal: "Getting rid of the bums in Albany."
Paladino, 64, does little to follow traditional politics, bucking party bosses along the way. He has courted tea party activists angry over high taxes and the major political parties.
Lazio beat the more conservative Paladino in the Republican convention in June, and Paladino responded by gaining 30,000 Republican signatures to force Tuesday's primary. Lazio beat Paladino in the Conservative convention in May, and Paladino responded by creating his own Taxpayers line and backing the Erie County Conservative chairman to fight Lazio along the way.
After a nasty summer campaign that brought national headlines for both Republicans' opposition to a proposed mosque a couple of blocks from ground zero, the race was a dead heat heading into the primary, according to a Siena College poll released Saturday. Polls to that point had shown Paladino gaining momentum just as he unleashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV and radio ads Lazio's underfunded campaign can't match.
Cuomo, the one-term attorney general, has a better than 2-to-1 edge in the polls over Paladino and more than $23 million in his campaign account, compared with less than $1 million in Lazio's. Paladino has promised to spend up to $10 million in the whole campaign, but has spent just a fraction of that so far in his underdog effort.
In an unusual turn, Lazio's running mate for lieutenant governor, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards, might defeat Paladino's choice of Tom Ognibene of Queens. That would give the Republican a narrow geographic flavor, with both candidates from western New York.