Cranking up the political rhetoric, Gov. George Pataki (search) sought to rally New York's Republicans on Tuesday night to work their hearts out for President Bush and GOP Senate candidate, Assemblyman Howard Mills (search).

Running down a litany of problems facing Mills in his battle against Democratic incumbent Charles Schumer (search) — being little known and with little campaign cash — Pataki told members of the Republican State Committee "that's what they were saying in 1994 about a guy named George Pataki."

It was that year that Pataki went on to unseat Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo (search).

"That's what they're saying now about a guy named Howard Mills," Pataki said to cheers from the several hundred GOP leaders from across the state who are expected to make Mills, the Assembly's deputy minority leader, their choice for the party's Senate nomination on Wednesday.

"He will shock the pundits with the kind of campaign he runs," Pataki said.

Pataki, calling Bush "a great friend of New York," said that if Republicans work hard they can force Democrats to spend time and energy in the state that has been considered safe for Democratic challenger John Kerry. That will help re-elect Bush, Pataki said.

Later, Pataki told reporters that Mills "has an excellent chance," although the governor also said, "Obviously, it's an uphill fight."

Outside the Syracuse hotel where the state GOP's gathering was being held, about 60 anti-war protesters — led by seven pink-and-black clad cheerleaders — waved signs and called for Bush's defeat.

Despite the backing of Pataki, Mills is not without opposition from fellow Republicans. Former Wall Street trader Michael Benjamin planned to appeal to state committee members on Wednesday to support his rival bid for the GOP Senate nomination. Party tacticians said it was very unlikely Benjamin would gain the 25 percent vote needed at the state committee meeting to force Mills into a September primary.

In addition to Benjamin, a conservative Republican from Long Island, Dr. Marilyn O'Grady, is expected to be nominated by the state Conservative Party for the Senate race. No Republican has won a statewide race in New York without Conservative Party backing since 1974.

On Tuesday, the State Democratic Committee met in New York City and made Schumer its Senate nominee. Schumer, from Brooklyn, won the Senate seat in 1998 by ousting Republican incumbent Alfonse D'Amato.

The Republicans were welcomed to Syracuse by former Syracuse University football All-American Tim Green, a defensive lineman who went on to play eight seasons with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. Green is now a lawyer, author and football analyst on television.

Green warmed up the audience for Pataki with several jokes, including one at the expense of New York's junior senator, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Green said that after a plane crash that killed the former first lady, her husband and former Vice President Al Gore, the trio arrived at heaven's gates where they were greeted by God. After speaking to former President Clinton and Gore briefly, Green said God welcomed them to sit on each side of him.

"He then looked at Hillary and said, `What do you have to say for yourself,"' Green said. "She says, `I think you're sitting in my seat."'

The joke drew sustained applause from the Republicans.