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December 11, 2004 -- DISCLOSURE: I am a friend of Eliot Spitzer since our childhood. My father was his father's lawyer. And I worked to help Spitzer in his races for attorney general. But I do not work for him now, and I'm out of the business of handling American candidates.

The elections of 2006 might as well be canceled. Even though the Democrats will probably nominate two of the most controversial people in American politics, Hillary Clinton for senator and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for governor, they will probably face no serious challenge.

Hillary and Spitzer got lucky. The two Republicans who might have given them fits — Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki — both have their eyes on the presidency and neither wants to go through a bruising, no-win battle in New York two years before making the big play for the White House.

Pataki knows he is living on borrowed time. When 500,000 whites left New York state in the 1990s and 500,000 immigrants moved in, New York became the bluest of the blue states. Alfonse D'Amato is gone, and so is Dennis Vacco. A Republican still rules in City Hall, but his absence from party affairs is striking, and there is no obvious GOP choice to succeed him. The Republican machine in Nassau and Westchester is in shambles, and GOP power upstate is crumbling.

Pataki was re-elected in 2002 more because Carl McCall beat Andrew Cuomo than because of any lingering Republican sentiment. Even so, he realized that he had to run as a Democrat on the Republican line to have a shot at re-election. It is unlikely he can pull off that alchemy one more time.

So why should Pataki risk his future by hanging on to his past and seeking one more term as governor? With the new Quinnipiac Poll showing Spitzer defeating Pataki by 50-38, the governor has even more incentive to get out of the way of the attorney general's train by throwing his hat into the presidential ring rather than run for governor.

Rudy has become a business consultant, heading a firm that offers advice and crisis management to companies in trouble. He would not have started a new firm if he were planning to take on Spitzer, much less Hillary. Having campaigned nonstop all over America for George Bush — filming and taping ads for candidates in every swing state — Giuliani is a bona fide presidential contender in the Republican Party. Some might even say he is the early front-runner.

Why should he risk his position by trying to take out Hillary, especially when he never really wanted to be senator?

If Pataki pulls out, Rudy might run against Spitzer, but only if he decides that the presidential nomination is a mirage and he had better use his popularity and prestige to win a permanent day job like governor instead of squandering it on a presidential dream. But the polls suggest that the Republican nomination is no dream for Rudy.

The only serious obstacle to Spitzer was the possible candidacy of Sen. Chuck Schumer. But Schumer killed speculation that he might run. Chuck decided to stay in Washington.

But the ease with which Hillary and Spitzer are likely to win re-election just indicates the dismal state of the Republican Party in the Empire State. Here are two people who have left a trail of enemies a mile wide behind them. Hillary has never had Schumer's level of popularity, and Eliot accumulates corpses from his prosecutions at a rate too rapid for most politicians.

But all the talented second-tier Republicans suffer from scars. Lazio lost badly to Hillary in 2000. Rep. Peter King lost popularity among Republicans by voting against Bill Clinton's impeachment, and his political base on the Island seems shaky. There's nobody left to give Hillary or Spitzer a run.

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