Tea party activist Carl Paladino wasted no time in setting his sights on Democrat Andrew Cuomo after confounding pundits and rolling over the leaders of New York's Republican and Conservative parties with a stunning win in the GOP primary for governor.
"Andrew Cuomo has to answer to the people," Paladino said Tuesday after defeating Republican Party designee Rick Lazio, a former congressman. Cuomo "is going to have to debate me. I'll debate him 49 days if there are 49 days between now and then."
"He was never vetted. He came in on Spitzer's coattails," Paladino said, referring to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace following a prostitution scandal after he led the 2006 Democratic ticket that included Cuomo as the attorney general nominee.
Paladino says he will succeed in fixing Albany's corruption and dysfunction because he's not a professional politician.
"They brought with them a desire to keep holding office. This is the first and last time I'm going to run for elected office," he said, repeating his promise to serve one four-year term.
Cuomo, the one-term attorney general who also was a private-sector lawyer, secretary of housing in the Clinton administration and an aide to his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
"I'm against career politicians because they've put the state in the disarray that it's in right now," said Rod Tobin, 64, a Buffalo Republican. "If people have run a business before or know how to manage an operation, I think they're better to handle things than the politicians today are running it."
With 89 percent of precincts reporting, Paladino had 63 percent of the vote to Lazio's 37 percent.
Paladino, a millionaire Buffalo developer, rode a wave of voter anger on his way to delivering another blow to the GOP in a heavily Democratic state.
There was a deafening cheer in his Buffalo headquarters when it was announced that The Associated Press had called the race for Paladino, 64, who promises to "take a baseball bat" to dysfunctional government in Albany.
"If we've learned anything tonight, it's that New Yorkers are mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore!" Paladino said. "The people have spoken."
He then welcomed Republicans who opposed him to join "the peoples' crusade ... New Yorkers are fed up. Tonight the ruling class has seen it now ... there is a peoples' revolution."
After speaking for about 15 minutes, Paladino led the crowd in an a capella version of "God Bless America."
Democratic Gov. David Paterson defended Cuomo, saying others tried to "take a baseball bat" to Albany "but ended up with a broken bat." He said Cuomo would work hard and is not "one who sits on a lead or think he's annointed."
Lazio wouldn't say if he would abandon a Conservative run for governor on the line he won Tuesday night. But such an effort hasn't been mounted for decades.
"We came up short and that is a disappointment," Lazio said in Manhattan. He said he embraces Paladino's platform of fiscal reform and that he wants to "be part of that effort ... and this campaign continues in terms of the ideas and the spirit."
Paladino overcame early criticism and ridicule over sexist and racist e-mail jokes he once forwarded to friends and his description of the Democratic Assembly leader as being like an anti-Christ. Some of his promised programs also were critically received, such as renovating prisons to provide jobs and "life lessons" including personal hygiene habits to welfare recipients, an idea he patterns after the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps.
State Republican Chairman Ed Cox, who had backed two candidates before embracing Paladino, called Paladino a tough competitor who would make a good governor.
Lazio, 52, hadn't conceded and was awaiting returns from all of Long Island, his base when he was a congressman. He was trounced upstate, where in his 2000 race for U.S. Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton he made the mistake of saying the region's economy had "turned the corner."
Paladino lost to Lazio at the state GOP convention but then petitioned his way to the primary by securing 30,000 Republican signatures statewide.
"I don't know if he wins if he'd beat Cuomo, but I hope he does," said Kenneth Bray, a 54-year-old woodworker from Buffalo. Bray's goal: "Getting rid of the bums in Albany."
Paladino, 64, does little to follow traditional politics, bucking party bosses along the way. He has courted tea party activists angry over high taxes and the major political parties.
Cuomo has a better than 2-to-1 edge in the polls over Paladino and more than $23 million in his campaign account. Paladino has promised to spend up to $10 million in the whole campaign, but has spent just a fraction of that so far in his underdog effort.
In an unusual turn, Lazio's running mate for lieutenant governor, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards, defeated Paladino's choice of Tom Ognibene of Queens. That gives the Republican a narrow geographic flavor, with both candidates from western New York.
UPDATE: Carl Paladino has been declared the winner of the republican primary for NY governor.
At 11:15 pm tonight Paladino addressed his supporters in Buffalo. He thanked voters across the state for choosing him as the republican choice for governor. He congratulated opponent Rick Lazio for running a clean campaign and invited Lazio to join him in November for the what he called the big dance. Paladino, who was rejected by republican insiders in the nomination process, invited all republicans to join him as he challenge democrat Andrew Cuomo.
Paladino immediately went on the attack using the phrase 'status Cuomo' in describing the man he calls an Albany insider. Paladino rallied his supporters by telling them a united republican party can defeat Cuomo on November 2nd.
Cuomo has had significant leads over Paladino in polling, but Rick Lazio also had a major lead over Paladino that evaporated in the final weeks before the primary election.
Previous coverage from Tuesday night:
Former Rep. Rick Lazio is in the fight for his political life with political novice Carl Paladino, a wealthy developer who got tea party support, for the Republican nomination tonight. Early returns show Paladino with 69% of the vote to 31% for Lazio with 24% of the precincts reporting statewide. We do not yet know from where those votes have come.
The new optical scanning voting machines have delayed returns in many regions as communities make the widespread switch from the traditional lever machines.
Paladino supporters in his home base of Western New York are reporting unusually high primary day turnout which could give the businessman an Upstate lift. In Onondaga County voters in early returns are favoring Paladino by a more than 2 to 1 margin.
Adding to the picture as of 10:54 pm tonight Rick Lazio has developed his own lead in heavily republican Nassau County on Long Island by a 2 to 1 margin over Paladino. Lazio has a slight edge in Westchester County. So it's possible that a stronger downstate presence could reduce the early deficit for Lazio.
Lazio has run for statewide office before losing a race for U.S. Senate to Hillary Clinton in 2000. He has most recently made his money on Wall Street. He rejected any face to face debates with Paladino in the weeks leading up to the campaign preferring to talk about democrat Andrew Cuomo and the November election. As the party's endorsed candidate Lazio had some funding, but not as much as the self-funded campaign of Paladino who blistered the airwaves with advertising in the final two weeks of the campaign.
Paladino said Lazio was "chicken" to debate him and used a campaign supporter dressed as a chicken to mock Lazio at the New York State Fair in August. Paladino has had strong support from the Tea Party supporters who seem him as an alternative to the mainstream politicians.
Click here for the latest returns.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.