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With Harold Ford out, New York Republicans court Mort Zuckerman -- Sen. Gillibrand's worst nightmare?

March 2, 2010 |  7:57 am

Rupert Murdoch, Dianne von Furstenberg and Mort Zuckerman at Malcolm Forbes' birthday party in 1989

(UPDATE Tuesday: Nevermind. Zuckerman declines to run.)

As the Ticket reported earlier, Harold Ford Jr., the personable moderate Democrat who moved to New York after losing a nasty Senate race in Tennessee three years ago, has decided not to run for the Senate in the Empire State. Apparently he figured it was going to be hard to win running to the right of Kirsten Gillibrand, the onetime centrist who has been moving steadily to the left since she was appointed to fill out Hillary Clinton's term.

But the Gillibrand forces might not want to celebrate just yet. Though Democrats hold an edge in registration in New York, the state has a history of electing Republicans. Think former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. And political circles are buzzing over the possible entry of a moderate Republican with deep pockets -- New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman. Even the rival New York Post has headlined its coverage with: "Run, Mort, Run."

A regular political commentator on "The McLaughlin Report" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Zuckerman “has always wanted to be in the political mix,” said Howard Rubenstein, a New York PR man and friend of the billionaire publisher, who also owned U.S. News & World Report.

No question that Gillibrand, a freshman senator, lacks the star power of predecessors like....

...Robert F. Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Clinton. New Yorkers like Larger Than Life characters, and Gillibrand has so far failed to ignite voter loyalty. As a result, political consultant Dan Gerstein told Politico, Zuckerman would be her "worst possible opponent."

Zuckerman is said to be weighing the idea -- torn between wanting to protect his private life (he's divorced and regularly dates celebrities like Nora Ephron and Diane von Furstenberg) and the itch, at 72 and after years of donating to and commenting on political issues, to get in the ring.

Meanwhile Ford is insisting that he could have beaten Gillibrand and, as he said in a New York Times op-ed piece, he only dropped out because be believes a bruising Democratic primary would have helped Republicans in the fall.

Some think he was just looking over his shoulder, and noticed Zuckerman gaining on him.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Rupert Murdoch, Diane Von Furstenberg and Mort Zuckerman at Malcolm Forbes' birthday in 1989. Credit: Getty Images

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