In Months, New York Politics Go from Red Hot to Ice Cold

With Giuliani and Clinton out of '08 race, politics cools down for New York.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York pollster Lee Miringoff thought there would be two hot poll questions for New Yorkers this fall:

1. Which presidential candidate from New York would carry the state in November, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani?

2. Whom should Gov. Eliot Spitzer appoint to the Senate to fill Clinton's term if she goes to the White House?

To say things didn't work that way is one of the great understatements of modern New York politics.

Clinton lost the Democratic nominating contest to Barack Obama. Former GOP front-runner Giuliani failed to win a single Republican primary or caucus despite spending tens of millions of dollars.

Even if Clinton had won, Spitzer wouldn't have been the one deciding who'd replace her. The Democrat resigned as governor in March after he was linked to a prostitution ring.

"A lot can change in six months," Miringoff says. And so New York is back in the role it has played in presidential elections for the past 20 years.

"In presidential politics, New York's votes are already assigned," says Maurice Carroll, a former longtime New York City newspaper political reporter now doing polling on New York issues for Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. "So why should either Obama or McCain give much attention to New York, except for the money, except for the publicity?"

Peter LaMassa, 39, of Massapequa, Long Island, says he doubts the presidential candidates will even bother running many campaign ads in New York.

"It makes you question the whole electoral process," says LaMassa, who works in financial services. "I think it's sort of disappointing that only the battleground states get all the attention. It makes some states irrelevant and others so important."

Even with polls tightening to show Republican John McCain might have a chance to carry the state against Democrat Obama — a Siena (College) Research Institute poll released Monday had Obama up 46%-41% — New York is still irrelevant, Baruch College political scientist Douglas Muzzio points out.

"If Obama is in trouble in New York, that's the least of his worries," Muzzio says.

For New York, it used to be different.

For six successive presidential elections, from 1928 to 1948, at least one New Yorker was the presidential candidate of one of the major parties.

In 1944, two New Yorkers squared off: incumbent Democratic President (and former New York governor) Franklin D. Roosevelt and Republican Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

Roosevelt, the only man ever elected president four times, was the sixth (and last) New Yorker to be president. He died in office in April 1945.

In 1948, Dewey seemed likely to make it five presidential wins in a row for New Yorkers, but he managed to blow a big lead to Democrat Harry Truman.

In those days, "New York was a leader with both parties because its demographic and population characteristics converged with the national demographic and population characteristics," says State University of New York-New Paltz Vice President Gerald Benjamin, the leading academic expert on New York government and politics.

As the country became more suburban and the South and West surged, New York became less important, he says.

"There's no doubt New York has lost some of its luster," says Gov. David Paterson, the former lieutenant governor who got the top job when Spitzer left.

The rest of the country seemed less tolerant of the sometimes boisterous, aggressive attitude of many New Yorkers, some of whom in turn resented the shift.

"New York seems to get lost in the shuffle sometimes," says Kandi Desrosiers, 43, from Rensselaer, N.Y.

Tara Golden of Albany, 28, concurs.

"Democrats always get the New York vote," she says. "I'm a Republican, so I don't really care about Hillary Clinton, (but) I think Giuliani would have been good."

Lamont Pinckney, 40, a digital editor who lives in the Bronx, says he doesn't mind if the presidential candidates focus their attention elsewhere in the remaining weeks of the campaign. "I don't feel it's right to spend so much time in New York when other states have issues and problems," he says.

New Yorkers have had their moments in the sun in recent decades.

Former governor Mario Cuomo became an instant national celebrity after his "Tale of Two Cities" keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic convention, and he seemed poised to be a serious contender for the nomination in 1988 and 1992, but he never put his hat in the ring.

"All you need is the right circumstance," he said this week when asked what it takes to be a hit on the national stage. "If you get there, and get lucky, anything can happen."

Gallagher reports for the Gannett News Service bureau in Albany, N.Y.