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Rick Lazio's greatest hits and misses

By Aaron Blake

Former Rep. Rick Lazio (R) announced Monday that he will not press forward with a third-party campaign for governor of New York, likely closing the book on a once-promising political career that has run into a series of unexpected hurdles in recent years.

Lazio lost the state's GOP governor primary two weeks ago to the tea party backed campaign of businessman Carl Paladino. Lazio still had the Conservative Party ballot line -- New York election law has a variety of ballot lines under which candidates can run -- and could have pressed forward but he told the Associated Press on Monday that he will not.

(Instead, he is set be nominated tonight to run for a state Supreme Court judgeship, which is the easiest way for a party to replace someone on the ballot. The Supreme Court is not the state's highest court.)

Having both Lazio and Paladino on the ballot was not ideal for the state GOP who would rather not split the conservative vote in what is already an uphill campaign against state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D).

Lazio's exit from the race gives Republicans a bit of a break but it also likely brings to a close an amazingly eventful two decades in politics for a man who was once touted as the future of the Empire State Republican Party.

Here's our Fix timeline of Lazio's greatest (and not-so-greatest) hits. What did we miss?

The highs

* In 1992, Lazio defeated 18-year Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) to win his first term in Congress. Much of the credit for Lazio's win was given to an ad he ran featuring footage of Downey at a junket in Barbados. Downey, much like Lazio, was once considered a future star. He was elected to Congress at the age of 25 and quickly rose up through the ranks, only to suffer a career-crushing defeat to then-Suffolk County legislator Lazio, 53 percent to 47 percent.

* In May 2000, then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) dropped out of the state's open U.S. Senate race, passing the torch to Lazio to run against then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (D). Lazio was ready, willing and able; he jumped into the race immediately with a more than $3 million war chest.

* In July 2010, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a former Democrat who had entered the open GOP governor's race late in the game, dropped out of the race and endorses Lazio. Levy had failed to make the Republican primary ballot, and his exit helped unite the party around Lazio's candidacy. All of a sudden, Lazio's future again holds some promise.

The lows

* On Sept. 14, 2010, Lazio didn't just lose but was absolutely clobbered by Paladino. Despite myriad personal liabilities, Paladino benefited from strong support from tea party activists and won by 24(!) points.

* On Sept. 13, 2000, Lazio approaches Clinton at a debate in what turned out to be an ill-fated move. Lazio attempted to make Clinton sign a pledge to turn down any soft money for her campaign; she responded by mockingly calling it a "wonderful performance," and he eventually walked a few feet away from her podium and handed her the document. He went on to lose what had been a neck-and-neck race by 12 points, and many credit that moment for his downfall. Lazio later acknowledged the mistake.

* In March 2010, state and national Republicansactively recruited Levy, who was then a Democrat, into their primary -- a development that was seen as evidence of the party's lack of faith in Lazio as its standard-bearer.

Will this be the last we hear of Rick Lazio in the political world? He's only 52 and does call New York -- the home of second (and third and fourth) chances home. But his loss to Paladino when coupled with his high profile defeat at the hands of Clinton in 2000 suggest that his political star may have already risen and fallen.

By Aaron Blake  | September 27, 2010; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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Next: Afternoon Fix: John Thune to campaign for six Senate and House candidates this fall; Rick Lazio drops New York gubernatorial bid

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