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Carl Paladino Within Striking Distance of Andrew Cuomo in New York Governor's Race

Carl Paladino.

Carl Paladino.

Updated 1:06 p.m. Eastern Time

New York Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino trails Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo by just six points (49 percent to 43 percent) in a new Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters.

The poll comes as something of a shock for two reasons: One, Cuomo was expected to cruise to an easy victory in New York, a largely Democratic state where he has name recognition thanks both to his father Mario and his post as attorney general. And two, because Paladino is not the sort of Republican that many political observers would have expected to have much of a chance in New York - or, perhaps, anywhere else.

A millionaire developer who is fond of channeling disturbed newsman Howard Beale's "mad as hell" speech from the movie "Network," Paladino has acknowledged forwarding racist and sexist emails, proposed turning empty prisons into dormitory space for welfare recipients and fathered a child during an extramarital affair.

Yet Paladino has been able to tap into the energy of the Tea Party movement, which backs him by a 4-1 margin in the Quinnipiac poll. The poll found that while Cuomo has an overwhelming lead among Democrats, Republicans have not been scared away from Paladino, who won a surprise primary victory over establishment candidate Rick Lazio. They support Paladino over Cuomo 83 percent to 13 percent. And independents are breaking for Paladino 49 - 43 percent.

The poll, it should be noted here, comes with one major red flag: It did not include Lazio, who is running on the Conservative Party line. Support for Lazio would likely come from those who said they are backing Paladino.

Cuomo, who is viewed favorably overall in the state, may be hobbled to some extent by the perception that he is an establishment candidate in a year in which voters view the political establishment negatively. He will likely use his vast campaign war chest - perhaps $30 million - to try to define Paladino negatively to voters who do not yet know much about him. In the survey, 31 percent of voters said they don't know enough about Paladino to say whether they view him favorably.

The fact that Quinnipiac surveyed likely voters - not registered voters - is significant because it takes into account the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans.

"In other Quinnipiac University polls, we have found that the shift from registered voters to likely voters favors Republicans as more conservative voters are more energized to vote right now," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Cuomo Wednesday morning, saying he is the best candidate in the race. At the event, according to the Associated Press, Cuomo said he is taking the new poll "with a grain of salt."

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Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.