Smith: Introducing Governor Underdog

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Objectively and practically, conditions are still terrible for Governor David Paterson. He still has to deal with a state legislature that pays him no attention; he still has awful poll numbers; he still is struggling to raise money for his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. And all of those problems are likely to get worse. But in a strange way, he has been done a favor by President Barack Obama and whoever leaked the news on Sunday that Obama wants the governor to drop out of the race: Paterson is a whole lot more interesting than he was last week. Already it appears to have energized the reeling governor; how it reverberates externally, beyond all the free media coverage Paterson is already getting, is much harder to predict. But thanks to Obama, Paterson goes from merely in-over-his-head accidental governor to almost-sympathetic underdog.

It’s one thing to have the Post beating up on Paterson and championing the candidacy of Andrew Cuomo; that’s to be expected. Having the president of his own party undercutting him, however, makes Paterson appear to be a victim, kicked when he’s down and not given the chance to grasp reality on his own and fashion a graceful exit. Maybe Paterson never would have gotten the message. And it remains extremely difficult to see who is going to rally to Paterson’s side, especially with Obama sending a powerful signal to donors that the president doesn’t mind if they starve the governor’s 2010 bid, and Obama’s move gives cover to New York black leaders who were uncomfortable about deserting Paterson. But the trickiest thing for Cuomo, even before these latest twists, was figuring out how to avoid battling Paterson in a divisive Democratic primary. And now Paterson may just be angry enough to stick around and make things messy. Rudy must be thrilled.