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GOP Hopefuls Elbow To Challenge New York's Cuomo

THERE may be a Pataki in New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's future. He is state Sen. George Pataki (R), who is leading the Republican pack prior to the GOP convention to select a challenger to Mr. Cuomo.

The race will be watched nationally, given the three-term Democratic incumbent's high political profile.

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As the May 23-25 convention nears, Mr. Pataki claims to have garnered endorsements from about 50 percent of the delegates and from 49 of 62 GOP county organizations. ``Our campaign is in a very strong position, with new endorsements breaking every day,'' maintains Rob Ryan, Pataki's campaign manager.

So far Pataki - a former mayor of Peekskill, in the Hudson Valley - has won the endorsement of smaller upstate counties. He also was endorsed by United States Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R).

Even with a convention victory, Pataki is likely to face a primary battle on Sept. 13 from Richard Rosenbaum, a Rochester businessman and former head of the state party. ``We are getting on the ballot through the petition process,'' says spokeswoman Lisa Linden. Mr. Rosenbaum must collect 15,000 signatures.

``We have strong grass-roots support across the state,'' Ms. Linden says. A moderate, Rosenbaum believes the party will lose if it is too conservative, as on the abortion issue.

If any of the other Republican hopefuls get more than 25 percent of the convention votes, their names also will go on the primary ballot. Several large counties, such as Nassau, Queens, and Albany, have yet to choose a candidate.

One of the candidates aiming for the uncommitted votes is J. Patrick Barrett, former chief executive officer of Avis, the car rental company. ``We have the resources to run a primary [race], and we will use them,'' says a spokesman for Mr. Barrett.

Another of the Pataki opponents, former New York City Congressman Bill Green, says he has ``high hopes'' he will be endorsed by Manhattan and the Bronx. ``If Cuomo comes out of New York [City] in November 1 million votes ahead, there is no way anyone can catch him with votes from the rest of the state,'' explains Green, also a moderate, who maintains that he runs the closest to Cuomo in the polls.

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The early polls indicate that Cuomo is quite vulnerable, with an approval rating of only 34 percent. But the governor has been busy ``reinventing'' himself - trying to show voters he is tough on crime and a fiscal conservative.

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