NY GOP picks 2 potential Gillibrand challengers

New York Republicans on Thursday picked a formerLong Island lawmaker and an economist to run in a primary for thechance to take on Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Republicans wrapped up a sometimes fractious party convention bygiving Bruce Blakeman, a former member of the Nassau CountyLegislature, the party's official designation after two rounds ofballoting, but former Bear Stearns chief economist David Malpassearned enough support to force a two-way Sept. 14 primary.

Gillibrand was appointed last year to replace Hillary RodhamClinton after Clinton was named U.S. secretary of state.

The little-known former congresswoman from upstate New York isseen by Republicans as vulnerable , but party leaders failed tolure top-name Republicans like former New York City Mayor RudyGiuliani into the race. That opened the door for lesser-knowncandidates to run for the special two-year term that ends in 2012,when Clinton's term would have ended.

A third Republican candidate, former congressman Joe DioGuardi,did not earn a primary spot in convention voting but said he wouldtry to petition his way onto the ballot - a difficult andtime-consuming process that, if successful, could set up athree-way primary.

"I'm in this till the end," DioGuardi said. "I can win theRepublican primary. What you saw here was the inside game. I'm nota politician."

DioGuardi last week accepted the Conservative Party line, whichis valuable for Republicans running statewide.

This is the second statewide run for Blakeman, who ranunsuccessfully for state comptroller in 1998. Blakeman told thecheering crowd he would fight against high taxes and regulationsthat are hurting farmers and small businesses.

The balloting for the Gillibrand seat wrapped up a three-dayconvention that featured a contentious gubernatorial floor fightand the possibility of primaries for two U.S. Senate seats and forgovernor.

Rick Lazio won party leaders' backing in the gubernatorial race,but Buffalo developer Carl Paladino on Thursday started amultimillion-dollar petition drive to try to force a GOP primary.Paladino must collect the signatures of 15,000 registeredRepublicans from around the state to get a spot on a primaryballot.

Some Republicans worry that primaries could sap time and moneyfrom candidates who already trail their Democratic opponents infundraising and in the polls. Rep. Peter King, in nominatingBlakeman, pleaded with delegates to avoid a distracting primary andfocus on defeating Gillibrand.

Marist pollster Lee Miringoff, however, said a primary for theGillibrand seat could give the little-known candidates desperatelyneeded name recognition and provide a boost for the winner.

Malpass, an economic consultant who served in the Reagan andfirst Bush administrations, showed no signs of backing down from aprimary fight.

"The people of this state know that things are not working, andI bring solutions," he said.

Polls show Gillibrand with commanding leads over the potentialchallengers. She reported having $6 million in her campaign accountin April, far more than the combined cash on hand for her threepotential rivals.

New York's highly popular senior Democratic senator, CharlesSchumer, is running for re-election this year.

Delegates on Tuesday gave the party's official designation totake on Schumer to Gary Berntsen, a retired, decorated CIA agentwho drew significant backing from tea party activists.Communications consultant Jay Townsend received enough support tochallenge Berntsen in the September primary.

GOP picks Lazio for governor, Levy fails to force primary

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