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Paterson Bows Out

That was quick. Less than one week after formally announcing his campaign for governor, David Paterson is out.

What a difference four years has made in New York. In 2006, the ticket of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson romped to a 40-point victory in the New York governor’s race, ending Republican George Pataki’s 12-year reign. Spitzer forced to resign amid scandal. And now, with today’s announcement that he will end his campaign to win a full gubernatorial term of his own right, Paterson will be gone soon, too. (Update: Reports initially indicated that the announcement would happen between 11:30 and 12:30 today, but now seems to be scheduled for 3 p.m.)

Paterson is not resigning, just abandoning his bid for re-election. His announcement today comes less than 24 hours after he insisted that he would not give up his campaign, even in the face of political pressure to step aside amid a widening scandal involving domestic violence involving a top aide, David Johnson. Reporting by the New York Times increased pressure on Patterson to explain why he and the State Police had intervened to protect Johnson.

Details of the Johnson episode aside, Paterson was already trailing badly in a head-to-head primary matchup against Democratic attorney general Andrew Cuomo, son of former governor and Pataki predecessor Mario Cuomo. More to the point, Paterson has proved to be far less competitive against possible GOP nominee and former Hillary Clinton Senate opponent Rick Lazio than Cuomo, who consistently bests Lazio in potential head-to-head general election matchups.

Paterson’s approval numbers had actually been rising since last autumn, giving him and his allies hope of a political comeback until his numbers started to tank again. He abandons his campaign just four days after the latest Siena College poll shows him trailing Lazio by 7 points, while Cuomo is cruising, enjoying leads of 30 to 40 points. Suffice to say Lazio can’t be happy about Paterson’s departure; the longer Paterson stayed in, the better Lazio’s chances of facing a divided Democratic Party in the solidly blue Empire State.

Four years ago, Spitzer-Paterson carried all but three counties in New York. Cuomo may not post a victory of that magnitude, given the national mood. But in what otherwise promises to be a tough night for Democrats from coast to coast, Paterson’s departure finally clears the path for a safe Democratic seat and something for the party to cheer in November.