Carl Paladino Disappears on a Crowded Stage

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Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images; Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The debate tonight between the seven gubernatorial candidates appearing on the ballot this year wasn't quite a circus, but it wasn't a typical snooze-fest either. The long-shots on stage made sure of that.

Rent Is Too Damn High Party nominee Jimmy McMillan, true to his word, turned pretty much every question to the topic of rent. He was also wearing black gloves for unknown reasons, and often spoke more rapidly than the human ear is capable of handling. Former madam Kristin Davis of the Anti-Prohibition Party wasn't much of a presence, but she came prepared with plenty of one-liners, such as, "Businesses will leave this state quicker than Carl Paladino at a gay bar."

Charles Barron, the Freedom Party candidate, and Warren Redlich, the Libertarian Party candidate, at times seemed to be involved a contest for who would be the first to make Andrew Cuomo snap. Both were fairly relentless in their criticisms, but Redlich was often more lighthearted and received laughs from the crowd (which was asked to be silent for the debate but ignored that request entirely), while Barron's deep disdain for Cuomo was unmistakable.

The man with the most to gain from the debate, Carl Paladino, didn't appear to come up with any game changers. He seemed nervous and spoke haltingly — understandably, as he's not a politician and has never been in a debate before — and without any especially memorable lines or moments, his reform message didn't stand out from those of the other candidates, and probably won't live on beyond the debate. Being "fine" and gaffe-free isn't good enough for someone down 35 points, and Paladino was just fine tonight. It's clear that the crowded field was a blessing to Cuomo, as it robbed Paladino of any particular prominence, and denied him the opportunity to get into a one-on-one debate with the Democratic front-runner.

Cuomo, also, was fine. He spoke easily and clearly on most issues, and though half the candidates on stage devoted their time to attacking him, he never lost his cool or seemed irritated. In fact, he hardly responded to the barbs at all, instead choosing to float above the fray. The difference, though, is that for Cuomo tonight, fine was good enough. It's hard to see how the debate changed the dynamics of the race much at all. If anything, a few Democrats and independents may have been won over by Barron, Redlich, and Hawkins, but that won't matter unless the polls get a a lot tighter over the next two weeks.