ALBANY, N.Y. – New York's GOP presidential primary will become a winner-take-all contest under legislation proposed by Republican Gov. George Pataki (search) and approved by the Legislature.
Passage of the measure by the Democratic-controlled state Assembly, and the GOP-led state Senate, came just three days before Monday's $2,000-a-person fund-raiser for President Bush in New York City hosted by Pataki, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search) and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search).
The event is expected to raise more than $4 million for the president's re-election campaign.
"The president ought to send them a box of candy," said veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf when asked Monday about the decision by the Assembly's Democratic majority to approve Pataki's winner-take-all proposal.
Sheinkopf said the new system would make it harder for GOP insurgents to challenge a presidential candidate favored by party leaders.
While Assembly Democrats were bowing on Friday to GOP wishes, Pataki and the Senate's Republican majority refused a Democratic request to move the state's March 2 presidential primary up by a week to increase the state's clout in choosing a Democratic candidate.
Three years ago, Assembly Democrats rejected Pataki's winner-take-all proposal on the grounds it would make it easier for New York's Republican leaders to deliver the state to their favored candidate and reduce minority voting clout.
"That's just another way of rigging the primary," then-state Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hope complained at the time.
Just last month, current state Democratic Chairman Herman Farrell had called the new proposal "undemocratic."
On Monday, however, Farrell said Democrats decided it wasn't worth fighting over the winner-take-all proposal because Bush appeared to have no opposition for the GOP nomination and the primary rules would have to be revisited in four years anyway.
"Right now, I don't think it matters," Farrell said.
But Sheinkopf said state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, had made a mistake by allowing approval of the measure as the Legislature wound up its regular session for the year.
"It's in the interest of Democrats for Republicans to have chaos and here's a clear case where chaos will not prevail for the Republicans," Sheinkopf said.
The Democratic strategist, a veteran of former President Clinton's successful 1996 re-election campaign, said if Democrats can't get rid of the winner-take-all GOP primary in four years, "it insures that whoever is in charge of the Republican Party (in New York) can deliver, at will, for their favored candidate."
In 2000, insurgent candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona fought bitterly against the Pataki-Bush forces to get on the New York primary ballot and won about one-third of the delegates at stake. Had the winner-take-all provision been in force then, Bush would have won all 93 delegates instead of two-thirds. Pataki's winner-take-all proposal surfaced just after the 2000 primary.
For the 2004 presidential primary, New York Democrats will continue to award delegates based on the votes won by each candidate.
Pataki's proposal does make it easier for GOP contenders to get on the New York ballot — McCain had to go to court — and eliminates the election of delegates from individual congressional districts. Those provisions were touted Monday by his aides.
"The governor's reforms will result in a more open process, allowing greater access to New York's primary ballot," said Pataki spokeswoman Lisa Dewald Stoll. "In addition, delegates will now be selected statewide, making the process less confusing and encouraging new participation."