A series of self-inflicted political wounds has taken a toll on New York State's most prominent Tea Party candidate, Carl Paladino, who now trails Democrat Andrew Cuomo by double-digits in the state's gubernatorial race.
A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows Cuomo, the state's attorney general, comfortably ahead of Paladino among likely voters, 55 percent to 37 percent.
It represents a stunning erosion of support for the tough-talking Paladino after a Quinnipiac survey two weeks ago showed him trailing Cuomo by just six points, 49 percent to 43 percent, following his upset win in the Republican primary.
No other poll showed the race quite so close. Still, the September Quinnipiac survey jolted the political establishment in New York, where Democrats enjoy an overwhelming registration advantage over Republicans and where President Obama remains relatively popular.
The new poll found Paladino losing ground among independents, following a string of campaign missteps.
"After the dust settled from Paladino's big primary win, 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.
Hoping to put his campaign on a new course, Paladino purchased several minutes of airtime for this evening on television stations across New York to speak directly to voters. Advisers said he was not dropping out of the race.
Cuomo's campaign declined to comment on the new survey, but Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo dismissed the poll and said the normal political calculations don't apply anymore.
"Quinnipiac, like all other public pollsters, were off by more than 20 points on the night of the New York Republican Primary. Twenty points is not just a remarkable miss, it is a legendary miss and Quinnipiac was not alone," Caputo said. "So most New Yorkers understand that public polls aren't working this year."
Even some of Paladino's supporters, however, acknowledge the last two weeks have been a political nightmare for the brash Buffalo businessman, who's making his first try for elected office and has been trying to harness voter anger with an "I'm mad as hell" campaign theme.
Paladino suggested to reporters that Cuomo had engaged in extramarital affairs and then, in an argument videotaped and replayed on news broadcasts across the state, Paladino threatened to "take…out" a reporter who challenged him to back up his claims with evidence.
Just this week, Paladino called state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a "criminal," a characterization rejected even by many of Silver's critics.
At the same time, Cuomo unleashed his first attack ad, a commercial that characterized Paladino as a "welfare king" who prospered from the kind of government wheeling-and-dealing Paladino routinely attacks. The ad spotlighted a $1.4 million state business tax break that Paladino received and then lost after the project only created one job.
The new poll confirms just how big a toll the controversies have taken. More than half the likely voters, 54 percent, now say Paladino does not have the right personality to be governor, a politically lethal number.
The new poll shows that 49 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of Paladino, an increase of 15 points in just two weeks.
"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.