ALBANY, N.Y. | Republican Rick Lazio's statewide TV ad now airing frames a major question in the campaign for governor: Is it worse to have been a Wall Street lobbyist making more than $1 million, as Mr. Lazio did; or to have been a public official collecting millions in campaign donations from lobbyists, as Democratic candidate Andrew M. Cuomo has?
Mr. Lazio's ad that began airing Wednesday is the biggest and most expensive effort yet in his underfunded, underdog quest to be New York's governor. The TV campaign on cable and during news programs doesn't mention that before Mr. Lazio faces Mr. Cuomo, the Republican must win a Sept. 14 primary against Buffalo millionaire businessman Carl Paladino, who is gaining on Mr. Lazio in polls.
"Special interests rule Albany, and it's Andrew Cuomo's world," Mr. Lazio says in the ad about the Democratic attorney general. The ad flashes the faces of other Democrats snared in scandals, including former Comptroller Alan Hevesi and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who both resigned.
"And our middle class keeps suffering," Mr. Lazio says, looking comfortable and earnest in front of the camera. "It's got to stop, and Andrew Cuomo can't do it. I can. He won't. I will.
"Andrew Cuomo can't change Albany, because Andrew Cuomo is Albany," says Mr. Lazio, a former congressman who represented Long Island.
The statewide campaign ad buy will cost Mr. Lazio $200,000, a third of his entire campaign cash as of the latest filings earlier this month.
But with the polls showing the Republican Party designee with half of the support of the popular Democratic attorney general and Mr. Paladino rising, the statewide ad blitz is a critical stab at survival.
A Cuomo spokesman declined to comment, but had state Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs issue Mr. Cuomo's response: "Rick Lazio is the ultimate insider. After being Wall Street's lapdog when he was in Congress, he walked right through the revolving door to make millions as the big banks' top lobbyist."
The Paladino campaign, which has accused the Lazio campaign of orchestrating a smear campaign that distorts Mr. Paladino's statements and proposals, called the TV ad a desperate measure.
"Rick Lazio's new TV ad is another trip around the rosary beads in his 'Hail Mary' strategy to win this race," said Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo. "The message defies logic and falls flat with voters who know Rick is a failed career politician."
The ad seeks to change the views of New York voters, who overwhelmingly see Mr. Cuomo as the person most likely to improve state government. Polls also show the one-term attorney general with 60 percent approval ratings.
Earlier this month, Mr. Cuomo began airing his campaign ad calling for ethics reform, but he wouldn't divulge the cost. The day it was issued, Mr. Lazio countered with a low-tech ambush video showing Mr. Cuomo using a back door at a fundraiser for Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel, who's facing House ethics charges.
Mr. Cuomo's ad seeks to amass public support for his proposed 20-point plan to improve ethics in state government, which he said would then gain the power necessary to force the Legislature to act on the reforms. He wants a ban on pay-to-play practices involving lobbyists.
Mr. Cuomo will release another ad on Thursday, which focuses on his fight as attorney general against fraud in the public-worker pension system that forced recoveries of millions of dollars.
Mr. Paladino is a Buffalo developer who says he and his "tea party" supporters want to overhaul Albany and replace career politicians to force discipline in spending and ethics, but he has no experience as a public-sector executive who had to deal with a legislative body.