ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Media buzz and a new poll make the selection of New York's next U.S. senator look like a race between Democratic titans named Cuomo and Kennedy, but the one New Yorker who will make the decision disagrees.
Gov. David Paterson insists he's taking a hard look at the field of more than 10 hopefuls, one of whom could trump the presumed favorites - state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Caroline Kennedy - to succeed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton if, as expected, she is confirmed as Barack Obama's secretary of state.
"The contest rests with one vote that's being cast and that makes this very different," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Poll. "The governor is aware of public opinion, and I assume he will take that into account given his own election timetable, but that does not mean he has to follow public opinion polls."
On Wednesday, Paterson dismissed the polls as popularity contests. The Democratic governor has routinely said it's the media that have anointed Kennedy and Cuomo as the favorites.
"There are some outstanding candidates whom I've considered who can't get more than 5 percent of the opinion polls," Paterson said.
Wednesday's Quinnipiac University poll showed Cuomo was supported by 31 percent of voters, while Kennedy received 24 percent. The next closest, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York City, got 6 percent.
The poll consisted of calls to 1,664 registered voters from Jan. 8 to Monday and has a margin of error of just more than 2 percentage points.
Kennedy had been ahead of Cuomo in some earlier polls, but now 48 percent of respondents say the lawyer, author and education advocate isn't qualified to join the Senate.
Quinnipiac poll Director Maurice Carroll said some missteps with TV cameras rolling in December may have cost her, although most of those questioned still think Paterson will pick her.
The poll found Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand of the Hudson Valley-Albany area had the support of 5 percent, Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island had 2 percent, 18 percent supported another candidate and 14 percent were undecided.
Many of the candidates voters are passing over have far more legislative experience, much of it in Washington, than Kennedy or Cuomo. Paterson has said his choice must have that immediate impact for New York, specifically to address a daunting fiscal crisis.
Some of the other names mentioned include Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, U.S. Reps. Brian Higgins and Jerrold Nadler, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
"The second tier has a lot of people who already know their way around Capitol Hill," said Miringoff.
But politics is rarely a one-move game and Paterson needs to consider whom he'll be running with in 2010 and how they can help or hurt him. Kennedy can help with prodigious fundraising ability; Cuomo is still a popular brand in New York.
And the case could be made for picking Israel - who took Paterson on a December fact-finding tour of Iraq and Afghanistan that provided international credibility for a governor just 10 months on the job. If Israel becomes senator, a spot would open in Congress for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a proven Democratic vote-getter on eastern Long Island.
On the other end of Long Island, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi has gotten little press for his Senate bid, but is perhaps closest to Paterson personally and politically. Suozzi, a lawyer and accountant, also reversed the county's fiscal crisis.
Maloney has the endorsement of three major women's groups for the job many Democrats feel should continue to be held by a woman.
Gillibrand would add an upstate woman who raised a ton of money to win a second term in a traditionally Republican district against a self-funded millionaire.
Picking Cuomo, in contrast, would mean the 2010 ticket led by Paterson will feature four Democratic incumbents - himself, the comptroller, the new senator and another attorney general - who were in office by appointment or accession rather than general election. That could be trouble if Republicans get seasoned pros like Rudy Giuliani to run for governor or Rep. Peter King of Long Island to run against Paterson's Senate appointee.
Paterson said everybody's getting a close look.
"He wants to communicate that it's a deliberative process, rather than a done deal," Miringoff said. "Whether that's cover for picking one of the front-runners or an indication he is going to go elsewhere we're all going to find out soon."