Reporting from Los Angeles — Carl P. Paladino, the " tea party" candidate who grabbed the gubernatorial nomination away from a weak New York state Republican Party, is just a scant six points behind the Democratic candidate with less than six weeks to go before the election, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo leads Paladino 49% to 43% among likely voters, the Quinnipiac University poll reported. The poll is based on interviews with 751 likely voters from Sept. 16 to 20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Though Cuomo remains ahead, his lead is far below the double-digit advantage he has enjoyed for months when compared with other GOP candidates. Paladino’s rise, turning what has long been expected to be an easy Democratic victory into a race, mirrors other polls that show conservative candidates doing better than expected in traditional blue states.
“The question was whether Carl Paladino would get a bounce from his big Republican primary victory. The answer is yes. He’s within shouting distance and – you can count on it – he will be shouting,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
It is not unusual for a candidate to get some sort of a bounce from an unexpected primary win. But Paladino also benefits from the enthusiasm gap found in many polls in a variety of states. Democrats may hold a voter registration edge, but Republicans make up for it by having partisans who are more eager to vote – especially those who support the tea party movement.
“In other Quinnipiac University polls, we have found that the shift from registered voters to likely voters favors Republicans as more conservative voters are more energized to vote right now,” Carroll said.
According to the poll, Paladino leads Cuomo 49% to 43% among independent voters, a trend also seen elsewhere as voters who call themselves independent are breaking from Democrats.
Voters approve of the job Cuomo is doing as attorney general, 67% to 25%, and a majority, 51%, say they have a favorable opinion of Cuomo, the son of a former governor. But better than four out of 10 said they wanted a candidate of change, the persistent theme that Paladino rode to his surprise victory over Rick Lazio in the GOP primary on Sept. 14. Democrats downplayed the poll, calling it an outlier because it was at odds with other polls, most of which were done before Paladino won the Republican primary. Those polls show Cuomo running strongly, said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Assn.
“Every poll in this race has shown Cuomo with a huge lead, and it’s not just because of who Paladino is -- and not because he is, let’s be frank, an embarrassment to the Republican Party, he’s somebody Republicans don’t even want to campaign with. But it’s because of the strength of Cuomo’s candidacy,” Daschle said.
Still, the current political climate makes a difference.
“When you look at the dynamics of this race, there’s no doubt that Carl Paladino would not be competitive in any other year,” Daschle said. “If there’s any year Carl Paladino could get any kind of traction, it’s a year like this. But even in a year like 2010, I don’t think he’s going to be a serious threat.”
Lazio is still on the Conservative Party ballot line. He is discussing his future with that party and could announce what he will do in the Nov. 2 election this week.
Michael A. Memoli of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.