Carl Paladino

Carl Paladino

Carl Paladino toppled his party's favored candidate to win the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday, in an unexpected landslide that clears the way for what he promised would be a bare-knuckled contest to try to derail front-runner Andrew Cuomo in November's general election.

With 88% precincts reporting, the deep-pocketed insurgent claimed 63% of the vote against Rick Lazio, a former Long Island congressman whose poorly financed candidacy fell victim to a surge of Tea Party dissent.

Carl Paladino receives a hug on stage after winning the Republican gubernatorial primary in New York.

"Andrew Cuomo should strap himself into the seat with an extra seat-belt because it's going to be one hell of a ride for him," Mr. Paladino said in an interview Tuesday before delivering a victory speech in Buffalo.

Mr. Paladino's victory was a striking upset for a political novice unknown to most voters six months ago and dismissed by leading party figures as a fringe phenomenon whose candidacy would not be taken seriously by the wider GOP electorate.

The Republican drama was the starkest sign of voter unrest in a primary election that overwhelmingly favored legislative incumbents in Albany. In one of the few competitive legislative races, Pedro Espada, a legally embattled state senator from the Bronx, was trounced by Gustavo Rivera, a 34-year-old Democratic political organizer who portrayed Mr. Espada as a poster child of state government gone awry.

At midnight, Eric Schneiderman, a labor-backed state senator from Manhattan, appeared the likely winner in the Democratic contest for attorney general. He had a slight but widening lead over Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who was seen as the Mr. Cuomo's favored candidate.

In a crowded Democratic field, Mr. Schneiderman, a Harvard-educated lawyer from a wealthy family, pitched himself as the contest's one true liberal candidate, a strategy that could turn into a liability in the general election against Staten Island district attorney Dan Donovan, the Republican nominee who has been endorsed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In the Republican race for governor, most party leaders assumed the nominating contest was settled in June when GOP leaders backed Mr. Lazio at their convention.

But Mr. Paladino, enlisting hundreds of volunteers, petitioned his way onto the ballot and spent millions of dollars on targeted mailings and a blitz of robo-calls and TV ads. He did so by tapping into a personal fortune earned from a career as a major developer in Buffalo.

The 64-year-old also benefited from his raw rhetoric and his threat to wield a sledgehammer upon Albany's establishment. Labeling caps on spending and taxes as "gutless," Mr. Paladino has said that he would slash the state's personal-income tax by 10% and shrink state spending by 20%. In the end, Mr. Paladino touched a nerve in a way that Mr. Lazio, a politician with a more amiable appeal, never achieved.

"They did everything they could to build barricades to stop me, and they couldn't. So I went around them to the people," Mr. Paladino said in an interview. "The entire election is going to be about the ruling class versus the people."

Mr. Paladino will now have less than two months to convince the state's general electorate that he should be governor and not Mr. Cuomo, an enduring and dominant figure in state politics and the son of a former governor, Mario M. Cuomo.

Mr. Paladino, whose campaign has spent months compiling opposition research on Mr. Cuomo, vowed to scrutinize the attorney general's record as a Clinton-era HUD secretary and pressure him to take sharper stands on hot-button issues, like health care.

Mr. Cuomo "should get ready for the vetting," said Mr. Paladino. "He's never been vetted. Nobody has ever compared him side by side with Carl Paladino."

To satirize what it considers Mr. Cuomo's ducking of issues, his campaign has deployed men in duck suits to shadow him at campaign events.

Allies of Mr. Cuomo, who holds a commanding lead in the polls, say the attorney general will counter Mr. Paladino by drawing attention to the latter's record of inflammatory remarks and controversial personal conduct, as well as to his stance against abortion and other socially conservative positions..

In recent months, Mr. Paladino has asserted that Gov. David A. Paterson has "been a drug addict his entire life" and that the Obama administration's health-care overhaul would end up killing more people than the 9/11 attacks. This year, reports surfaced that he had forwarded racist and sexually graphic e-mails to friends.

"They're going to try to marginalize and paint him as an extremist out of touch with the values of New Yorkers," said a person close to the Cuomo campaign.

"If Carl Paladino's personal life becomes an issue, Andrew Cuomo has a very public record as well," said a spokesman for Mr. Paladino, Michael Caputo, who said his campaign was prepared to raise the issue of Mr. Cuomo's contentious divorce from Kerry Kennedy in 2003.

Mr. Paladino said he's prepared for the fight. "Andrew Cuomo is going to be paint me as an extremist? People listen to me and they hear about a government they want, a government...that will cut spending, cut taxes, that will focus on private-sector job creation," he said.

It's a platform that Mr. Paladino said can appeal to Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in New York by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. "All Democrats are not entitlement people," he said. "These are the people who are going to suffer the cost of Obama health care. These are the people who are suffering because they're no jobs."

For the bulk of legislative races, despite widespread discontent with the state Legislature, the power of incumbency proved robust, as few members of the Senate and Assembly across the state lost their seats, based on early results.

But a young political organizer running in his first campaign for elected office did unseat Mr. Espada, a Democrat under investigation for corruption and fraud.

Mr. Rivera, the challenger, was backed by some of the city's most powerful unions and politicians. Mr. Espada has for some become a symbol of Albany's problems.

Mr. Cuomo has filed a civil suit alleging Mr. Espada took $14 million over five years from a nonprofit health clinics he founded in the South Bronx. Mr. Espada also faces a federal probe.

Mr. Espada blamed his defeat on "the powerhouse unions, the outside millionaires," the media and trouble with new voting machines that he said made it difficult for his supporters to vote. "This round goes to them," he said to reporters after conceding. "They've successfully ganged up on me this evening."

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