Republican Rick Lazio has pulled ahead of Democratic Gov. David Paterson in the race for governor and is apparently making small gains against potential Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo, according to a Siena College poll released Monday.
The former congressman from Long Island moved from a tie with Paterson in January to take a 46 percent to 39 percent lead.
The poll also shows 42 percent of Democrats support U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, while 16 percent back former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr., who is exploring running against her in the primary. In a potential general election matchup, former Republican Gov. George Pataki would beat both Gillibrand and Ford.
In the governor's race, Lazio remains well behind Cuomo, 26 percent to 63 percent. He improved by 2 points, while Cuomo dropped 3 points. Lazio has steadily gained on Cuomo in that potential matchup, with Cuomo fading slightly since getting 68 percent of the voters' support in December.
Cuomo, in his first term as attorney general, won't say whether he will run for governor and refuses to comment on what he would do as chief executive, although he's holding governor-size fundraisers. He has amassed $16 million to Paterson's $3 million, in the last six-month periodaccording to January's Board of Elections filings.
Steven Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena Research Institute, said Cuomo remains in a strong position because both his slippage and Lazio's gains are slight.
"An incremental gain by Rick Lazio will not have him beating Andrew Cuomo nine months from now," Greenberg said. "As people start to pay more attention to politics, Rick Lazio will become more known and bring that Republican base back to tighten up the race."
"We are building a movement brick by brick and can feel the momentum building every day," said Barney Keller, a Lazio spokesman. "We are encouraged by this and other signs that Rick's plan to turn around Albany is resonating."
Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 enrollment advantage over Republicans in New York.
Neither Cuomo nor Paterson's campaign manager responded to requests for comment.
The Siena survey shows Cuomo is viewed favorably by 66 percent of voters polled, down slightly from 67 percent to 70 percent in the past five months. That's still the highest rating among statewide candidates.
Coming two days after Paterson formally announced his campaign for a full four-year term, the poll shows a drop of 3 points in the governor's favorability rating. Thirty-five percent view him favorably, while 55 percent view him unfavorably. That reverses some of his gains since October, when his favorability rating was 27 percent.
"He doesn't have a lot of time left to rally support, show that he's a doing a good job as governor and that he deserves to be elected," Greenberg said.
Twenty-two percent of voters polled said Paterson was doing a good or excellent job, compared to 24 percent in January and 23 percent in December.
Paterson said he will win over voters when they realize he saved the state from a fiscal crisis, making sure it paid its bills and protecting its credit rating while balancing annual budgets. So far, he said, he's taking a hit for making tough decisions like cutting spending and considering extreme measures, including closing some parks and delaying some income tax refunds.
"I think when I take that message to the people, they will hear that message," he told MSNBC-TV on Monday.
While 41 percent of voters want Cuomo to declare now which office he's running for this fall, 43 percent say he has time to wait, down from 49 percent a month ago. Fifty-one percent want him to run for governor.
The Siena poll surveyed 805 registered voters by telephone Feb. 14 through Friday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.