Nothing focuses a front-runner’s mind like a suddenly tightening poll.

A day after Carl Paladino snuck within six points of Andrew Cuomo in the Quinnipiac survey of the governor’s race, the Democratic attorney general leapt immediately onto the attack.

His first shot? A negative TV ad portraying the Tea Party Republican as a small-government hypocrite, collecting millions off government leases and tax breaks while making huge donations to Albany politicians.

“Part of the problem,” the Cuomo ad proclaims over Paladino’s splotchy headshot.
Oh, this is already getting to be fun!

The Quinnipiac poll is a bit of an outlier. Survey USA has Cuomo up by nine points. Siena has the Cuomo lead at more than twenty points. And so soon after the billionaire Republican’s primary victory over dull Rick Lazio, all these numbers are likely to jump around for a while.

But still. Andrew Cuomo may actually have a race on his hands. And one thing about billionaire candidates, no matter how wacky they are: They do have money, bushels of it.

Paladino struck back with his own hit-job, a print ad blasting Cuomo for saying that he’d vote for Mike Bloomberg, when in fact he hadn’t. But certainly we haven’t heard the last of Cuomo’s shots. He’s abandoned his above-the-fray strategy. The mud will begin to fly in all directions.

In all his time around New York politics, Andrew Cuomo has never been known for underreacting to his political enemies. He punches, he pounces and he doesn’t like to stop.
Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former governor and no fan of Cuomo’s, had some fascinating insights on CNN.

“The problem that Andrew has is that everybody knows that behind the scenes, he is the dirtiest, nastiest political player out there,” said Spitzer, certainly no slouch in the dirty/nasty department. 

“He has brass knuckles and he played hard ball. He has a lot of enemies out there. …He may not want to pretend he plays that game. He does, and he's worse at it."

Give Paladino this much credit: He may be an erratic billionaire from Buffalo. He may have no idea what he’s talking about. But he’s sure gotten Cuomo’s attention.

Ellis Henican joined Fox News Channel (FNC) as a political contributor in July 1999. He also serves as a staff columnist for Newsday and hosts a nationally syndicated weekend show on Talk Radio Network.