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Paladino and the upstate-downstate New York divide

For many denizens of New York City, Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor, is beyond the pale.

He does appear to be a nasty piece of work. The real estate developer has a seedy reputation among some for distributing racist and pornographic emails. His policy proposals include housing welfare recipients in former prisons and giving them lessons in hygiene. Last week Paladino enhanced his thuggish image by threatening a New York Post reporter on camera, telling him "I'll take you out" (watch video here).

But the real question is, if he's so bad, how is it that many voters are taking him seriously? Depending on which poll you read, he is doing either very well and close to Andrew Cuomo, or at least making a good run for it. For a start, it probably helps to try to look at world from upstate New York's perspective, rather than New York City's - in other words, more from Paladino's Buffalo than the Big Apple. Upstate's economy has been in long decline, and is more like an extension of the midwest rustbelt. Its economy didn't have a major bust following the financial crisis, because it never experienced a boom (house prices noticeably remained subdued). But, even if there was no major crash, the downturn has made things only worse for people upstate.

But what about Paladino's character weaknesses, isn't he a inherently flawed messenger of change? Here is another example of what I call the liberal blind spot. The same people who see Paladino as a monster have conveniently forgotten about the recent experiences under Democratic Party governors. As Fred Siegel pointed out  in his perceptive Wall Street Journal article on the weekend: "When I mention [Paladino's] excesses to upstaters, I've been told: 'Remember that Spitzer and Paterson dramatically lowered the bar on what's considered acceptable behavior.'"

It's the major disappointments (and embarrassments) under Democratic Party politicians like Spitzer and Paterson that are paving the way for upstarts like Paladino. It doesn't mean he or his policies are right for New York state, but it does make his rise more understandable.

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