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Rethinking Lazio

May 5, 2010

A funny thing happens to some politicians. Like movie actors, they become type cast.

Rick Lazio struggles with this. He’s a self-made man. He was an assistant district attorney, a county legislator, a well-regarded congressman for four terms and a top investment bank executive.

But all that people remember about him is that he ran against Hilary Clinton for U.S. Senate and had awkward moment during a debate when he walked across the stage to underscore a policy point. That incident occurred because his handlers told him he needed to appear tougher and more aggressive.

In reality, Lazio is not confrontational. He’s a decent, hard-working and competent person who is not overly dynamic.  

But in the hands of ad men, Lazio is going to be recast this fall as a pit bull to take on Andrew Cuomo. Polling will drive the move. The pollsters will say that he needs to go on the offensive.  

But here’s a thought: Why not run Lazio as just who he is – a simple guy with a simple agenda of lower taxes and spending? Why not put Lazio in front of a camera to say the following:

“I’m not a slick politician. In fact, some people say I’m boring. Maybe so. But I know a few things. I know that state government is broken. I know that the Democrats have been in complete control for several years and they’ve only made matters worse. All they can do is fight amongst themselves. This must stop. I’m running for governor with a very simple plan: Stop the political games. Cut spending and cut taxes. I’m Rick Lazio, and if you want lower taxes and reduced state spending vote for me.  If you want more of the same, vote for the other guy.”

This is what Mario Cuomo used to call a rationale. And it’s the Republicans that have it; not the Dems.

The Republicans must resist the temptation of turning Lazio into something he’s not. If they insist on portraying him as a scrappy underdog, he’ll only come off as poodle nipping at Andrew’s heels. But if they let him be himself, it just might resonate.

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