Tea Party Republican Carl Paladino tried to hit the reset button today on his faltering campaign for governor of New York, buying television airtime to explain his combative – and politically costly - behavior. He challenged his Democratic rival, Andrew Cuomo, to "come out and debate like a man."
Paladino spoke hours after a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Cuomo opening a wide lead among likely voters, 55 percent to 37 percent. Two weeks ago, a Quinnipiac poll found Cuomo leading Paladino by just six points, 49 percent to 43 percent.
Hoping to halt the slide, Paladino used his three-minute televised address to explain why he threatened to expose alleged extramarital affairs by Cuomo -- and then threatened to "take out" a reporter who asked him for proof.
Both incidents are widely acknowledged to have turned off many New Yorkers to Paladino, a first-time candidate trying to channel voter anger with an "I'm mad as Hell" campaign theme.
In his televised appearance, which aired at 5:13 p.m. on some upstate New York television stations, Paladino said he was upset that a newspaper tried to take pictures of his young daughter, whom he fathered as a result of an extramarital affair.
"I'm a builder, not a politician. When somebody went after my 10-year-old daughter, I got angry. This leaves my daughter vulnerable to kidnapping or sexual predators; it's outrageous," he said.
He added that for "weeks the media has badgered me about affairs, because unlike a career politican, I was honest enough" to admit to having had one.
"Does the media ask Andrew such questions?" said Paladino. "Andrew's prowess is legendary. No, this campaign must be about bigger issues, not affairs or divorces, because our state is in a death spiral."
Paladino demanded that Cuomo, New York's attorney general, "stop the political posturing" and "come out and debate like a man." Aware that Paladino would make such a challenge, the Cuomo camp committed to an Oct. 18 debate on Long Island shortly before Paladino's broadside aired.
In a statement last night, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto belittled Paladino's comments, saying the Tea Party favorite "and his handlers can't con New Yorkers."
"They have seen the real Carl and they know he is unfit to be Governor with his unstable outbursts, smears, and total lack of substance. New Yorkers don't need his dysfunctional personality in Albany – Albany is dysfunctional enough. As we all know by now, Carl has a casual relationship with the truth," Vlasto said.
Paladino had canceled all his scheduled events in advance of the televised spot, heightening speculation in the New York political world about what the unorthodox candidate might say.
Even some of Paladino's supporters acknowledge the last two weeks have been a political nightmare for the brash Buffalo businessman, after he stunned New York Republicans by winning the party's primary for governor in September.
The new Quinnipiac poll confirms just how big a toll the controversies have taken.
It shows that 49 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of Paladino – an increase of 15 points in just two weeks. And even more voters, 54 percent, now say Paladino does not have the right personality to be governor – a politically lethal number.
"The big switch was in the independent vote – a small edge for Paladino two weeks ago turns into a small edge for Cuomo this time," said Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute.
"Paladino's 'angry man' style gets a lot of attention, but he comes up negative on the personality test," Carroll said.
The new poll surveyed 1,141 voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.