Rick are you running scared? Big Mistake to turn down the NY1 debate

Ten years ago, I was at the Buffalo Senate Debate where a relative unknown at the time, Suffolk County Congressman Rick Lazio walked across the stage and stuffed a campaign pledge in front of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But that move, perceived as bullying, locked his place in political history as an example of what not to do during a debate with a female candidate. Clinton's support among women voters was solidified. Lazio may now again be in a circular firing squad of one.

If Lazio didn‘t already have enough problems, it’s not a plus when a candidate can’t unite his own party behind him, and is widely seen as a sacrificial lamb against Andrew Cuomo.

Lazio has admitted he made a mistake at the Clinton debate, mainly in underestimating how the audience would react to such a move.

Apparently Lazio hasn’t learned anything because he is making a big mistake again, and one has to wonder who has his ear. Lazio has make a huge error in denying the NY1/YNN cable television debate set for Monday night in Syracuse.

Granted, the Lazio refusal underscores the campaign’s strategy of basically ignoring Carl Paladino, But is Lazio really in a position to run such a Rose Garden campaign, and what about the possibility that he may crawl to the finish line Sept 14th, or stated another way, that he doesn’t meet expectations on primary day, and that would only make Cuomo appear more invincible and continue to dry up Republican fund-raising dollars for Lazio.

History has shown, and right here in New York State, you ignore a well financed (Rich) candidate at your own peril. Ask the Democrats against Michael Bloomberg in 2001.

Why is avoiding the Debate a big mistake?

1) Paladino, the Buffalo attorney and developer can afford to flood the airwaves with commercials in the final days of the primary. Remember Paladino has threatened to spend up to $10 million of his own money running for governor this year.

2) Do you really want to alienate a man you may need a lot sooner than expected. Lazio may have succeeded in receiving the Republican and Conservative lines, but even if Paladino loses, he can continue in the general election all the way to November. Paladino can make Lazio’s life a nightmare basically insuring Cuomo’s election by splitting the Republican vote.

3) Yes, by debating a candidate that is trailing in the polls, for that hour the front-runner lifts that person in stature, but with Paladino’s far right views, what’s the worry? Remember Paladino's recent idea: His plan to convert empty and underutilized prisons into centers where those on welfare and unemployment insurance can receive job training, state-sponsored work, housing and lessons in "personal hygiene." Or how about Paladino forwarding those anti-Obama emails.

Why not let Paladino “hang” himself in a debate?

By denying voters that opportunity, the only one in the race, Lazio is providing Paladino, and more importantly those Republican County leaders that support Paladino , an opportunity to gain traction. To energize the anti-Lazio vote. The move could also be seen as a big snub to upstate voters that they may have long memories on election day. Another “down-state” official disrespecting Upstate, and Paladino is one of their own.

The door has been cracked opened for Paladino, hitting Lazio as an empty suit.

“New York Republicans still see Hillary Clinton’s heel marks all across Rick Lazio’s back,” Paladino said. “I’m sure the humiliating defeat by one first-time candidate makes Rick wary of showcasing his weaknesses again.”

“Rick Lazio insults the voters if he expects them to believe that he simply has no time to debate,” Paladino said. “I’ve never been in a debate before. If he can’t debate me, how can he debate Andrew Cuomo?”

If Paladino beats expectations on election day, Lazio will have no one to blame but himself.

Lazio is providing the classic line when a campaign ducks, citing a scheduling conflict, but NY1 first proposed this date to Team Lazio weeks ago and did not get a final answer until recently.

Lazio, by his move is hurting himself for the general election, also providing Andrew Cuomo with an out.

Cuomo can now duck a general election debate with Lazio if Cuomo chooses to do so, and bet the house on it, unless the polls tighten, Cuomo will run a rose garden strategy of ignoring Lazio.

Keep history in mind. In Mario Cuomo’s third term as governor, there was no debate during the fall campaign with George Pataki.

How can Lazio duck his Republican primary opponent, and then demand that Andrew Cuomo debate him? Cuomo’s team will quickly point out Lazio did not debate Paladino, and throw out the word “hypocrite.” They may even include this issue in television commercials.

Look at Sunday’s NY Daily News Endorsement of Andrew Cuomo which states Lazio is “running scared,” of Paladino, adding:

“There is no point in taking further stock of the candidates vying for the Republican nomination in next month’s primary. Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino have been that awful.” (Sunday NY Daily News Editorial)

Big mistake Lazio to turn down the debate.