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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Senate Scramble

Can you name the former Congressman who was the Republican Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2010? Probably not, although you may know his daughter, one-time American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi.

Her father, former Rep. Joseph DioGuardi of Westchester County, won a three-candidate GOP U.S. Senate primary in September 2010, winning the right to face U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in November 2010’s general election, where Gillibrand prevailed with 63 percent of the vote. Senator Gillibrand is currently filling out the final two years of former Senator Hillary Clinton’s six-year term, and must run again in November 2012 to secure another six years in the U.S. Senate.

Despite all of these ominous signs, three candidates stepped forward at last Friday’s GOP state convention in Rochester, NY to seek the Republican senatorial nomination this year: Rep. Robert Turner (R-Rockaway Point, Queens), Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, and New York City attorney Wendy Long.

Rep. Turner is in a much better position to challenge Senator Gillibrand than former Rep. DioGuardi was. DioGuardi had been out of office since the early 1980s so the last vote he’d cast in the U.S. House of Representatives came during the Reagan administration whereas Rep. Turner is an incumbent congressman. Moreover, Rep. Turner was elected by voters in the 9th Congressional District, which straddles Queens and Brooklyn, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a 3 to 1 margin. This gives Turner the kind of crossover appeal essential for a statewide GOP candidate in New York.

Comptroller Maragos, who was first elected to his current post in 2009, had a successful private-sector business career before seeking public office, having founded SDS Financial Technologies in 1989 and then serving as its president for the next 20 years. Maragos unseated a Democrat who had served eight years as Nassau’s county comptroller so he can credibly argue that uphill races are his specialty.

Long, a Manhattan attorney who worked earlier in her career as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, previewed the case she’d make against Senator Gillibrand in a letter to the state’s GOP county chairs last month. “When she ran for Congress, [then-Rep] Gillibrand claimed to be a conservative Democrat, supportive of limited government and Second Amendment rights. But the moment her Senate job was handed to her by David Patterson, without having to work for it, she marched hard to the left and became an unabashed liberal, supporting higher spending, increased debt, and more taxes.”

Since I’m writing this before the state GOP’s nominating convention has concluded, it is unclear at the moment whether one of these three U.S. Senate candidates can secure both the GOP and Conservative Party lines in November. That’s something former Rep. DioGuardi managed to do, although it didn’t help him much two years ago. Another complicating factor for a Republican running statewide in 2012 is that presidential election years bring New York’s registered Democrats to the polls, and Republicans are outnumbered 5 to 3 statewide.

You have to go back 20 years—to Senator Al D’Amato’s successful re-election bid in 1992—to find a Republican candidate who was able to buck that tide.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net