ALBANY - While some North Country Republicans are actively backing the gubernatorial candidacy of Carl Paladino, others are distancing themselves from him.
Paladino's blunt campaign style - focused on steamrolling anyone or anything standing in his way - is gaining momentum with a fed-up electorate.
Backed by prevailing anti-establishment sentiments and Tea Party ground forces, Paladino's anger-driven campaign and divisive rhetoric are forcing Republican officials and incumbents to make an uncomfortable decision. The choice is either to keep Paladino at arm's length or actively support a man who has called Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a Nazi and accused Gov. David A. Paterson of continued drug use.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro is taking a wait-and-see approach with the Paladino's candidacy.
Sayward said while she would never work against Paladino's bid, she's keeping him at arm's length - especially considering his very conservative stances on social issues like abortion.
"God knows all we want to do is to live our lives and for government to stay out of it and if Carl can take some of that back, all the better," she said. "Do I have concerns? Yes. We've come too far with some of the social issues to back up to a point where it will take another generation to get us back to where we were."
Paladino has also promised to take a baseball bat to the ever-dysfunctional state capitol.
Republican state Sen. Elizabeth O'C Little, R-Queensbury, said she has yet to meet Paladino. She said he's riding a wave of voter negativity about the dysfunction of state government. Little added Paladino has to get specific.
"Cutting 20 percent of government sounds like a good idea, but how would you do it? Would it be in aid to schools that would cause property taxes to go up? We need to talk about those things," she said.
She argued the mudslinging coming from the Paladino camp isn't going to fix the rampant dysfunction in Albany.
"You have to be willing to work and form partnership and really negotiate to get things done," Little said. "Right now, we are seeing a lot of negativity in the campaign, which I think needs to be transformed into positive ideas."
Sayward isn't sure Paladino's fire-and-brimstone approach will actually accomplish much in Albany.
"You really do believe with all of your heart that you can go to Albany and make change happen immediately," she said. "But that just doesn't happen. New York is a huge state, it's diverse in culture and class. What's important in New York and Buffalo isn't often important in the North Country."
The Essex County Republican Committee, like most in the state, backed Rick Lazio for governor. The party didn't even let Paladino speak last spring at its state convention.
But the county's GOP cchairman Ron Jackson said Paladino's style has hit on something with frustrated voters. Jackson said he will work hard to see Paladino defeat front-runner and Democratic heir-apparent Andrew Cuomo.
"I don't know Carl very well but he sure is intriguing," Jackson said. "He's a strange person in a lot of ways."
Several recent polls have shown Cuomo's once-insurmountable lead dwindle under the barrage of insults and accusations thrown by the Paladino camp. Polls have Cuomo's lead down to less than 20 percentage points.
Jackson said it may be Paladino's bizarre behavior that is winning over a general-public inundated with slick and polished politicos.
"People are pretty sick about what's been going on down there and there's a lot of people willing to find out if that will work or not."
Last week, Paladino got into an epic throw-down with New York Post Albany editor Fred Dicker, when the antagonistic journalist pushed him on an accusation he's made about Cuomo.
Paladino claimed post photographers had been stalking his illegitimate 10-year-old daughter - an assertion Dicker denies.
Paladino's candidacy also poses questions for the future of New York's Republican Party. Once a centrist organization of Rockefeller moderates, now Tea Party activists and divisive social issues are fracturing the party.
And the centrist and unopposed Sayward has noticed.
"I'm awfully glad I don't have competition this year because I think that if there was any year that 'throw the bums out' was the mantra, it's this year," she said.
Many political observers are wondering if a rightist GOP can even stay afloat in ever-blue New York State. The GOP has even lost its foothold on upstate Congressional districts that were once Republican strongholds.
And for Sayward, it may be time for something new.
"We know that in life, the answer lives in the middle. You can't just have this butting of heads all of the time - you just can't," Sayward said. "You can have different ideas, but at the end of the day - if there's an issue that's important statewide - there has to be compromise."
Sayward said a centrist third party could draw moderates from members of both parties that continually march toward the political extremes. She notes it could potentially prompt more of one of the hardest things to come by in Albany - compromise.