When we last saw Rick Lazio, it was 2000, and he was losing a Senate race to Hillary Clinton. Now he's back, and the Republican nominee for governor.
Lazio seems like a pleasant and apparently rather well-adjusted guy. For that very reason, you have to wonder what he's doing in New York politics. He was a once - back in the 90s - a well-liked Congressman from Long Island. But his previous shot at the big time was hardly the kind of effort that suggested he had hidden depths of political talent.
His Senate nomination this week at the Republican state convention was a huge defeat for the party chair, Ed Cox. (When we last saw Ed Cox it was 1971, and he was getting married to Tricia Nixon in the White House Rose Garden.) Cox wanted Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive who was most famous for his war against Long Island's illegal immigrants.
Levy was a Democrat, but willing to switch. You may have noticed how well that's been working lately.
But aside from the loathsomeness of Levy's no-holds-barred campaign against undocumented workers, Cox's theory made some sense. Levy is an attack dog. In a campaign against Andrew Cuomo, who the Republicans have taken to calling "the crown prince," he'd have gone for the throat.
And the Republicans' only hope this fall would seem to be running a campaign so aggressive that it would throw the better-known, better-financed Cuomo off balance.
That's not necessarily impossible. Cuomo is not a great campaigner - his race for governor in 2002 was a disaster. If possible, he'll stay glued to his Attorney General's office all fall, represented outside by the hologram that is TV advertisements.
It's hard to imagine Lazio as an attack dog, or as a candidate who could throw Cuomo off stride in a debate.
In 2000, in fact, it was a debate that sealed his doom.
Trying to trap Clinton on a rather obscure point about campaign finance, Lazio walked across the stage to the podium where Clinton was standing and demanded that she sign a pledge to refrain from accepting certain kinds of fishy donations. It was the famous "invaded-her-space" moment, and things went downhill for Lazio from then on. (In an era of high-octane political hatred, Lazio's stroll looks pretty tame today.)
Since then, Lazio has been working in finance - the last five years as a vice-president at JP Morgan Chase & Company. At this point in American history, the only less promising career choice would have been off-shore drilling executive.
To make matters worse, Levy is muttering about running as an independent and second runner-up Carl Paladino, the nutsy Buffalo developer, is talking about getting himself on the ballot as a Tea Party candidate. Levy's not likely to follow through, but Paladino, who's as rich as he is awful, is a definite possibility.
So it goes. Rick Lazio is what we've got. His upside is that you could actually imagine him running the state in a kind of George Pataki-like way. Pataki was a mediocre governor, but he looks like Charlemagne compared to David Paterson.
And Lazio once wrote an op-ed piece for the Times calling for a unicameral state legislature. Great idea. It doesn't matter whether you get rid of the Assembly or the Senate - feel free to flip a coin. If Lazio could actually eliminate half the state's lawmakers, I'd vote for him tomorrow. Everybody would. All he needs is to convince the state he could actually do it.