The race to become the next governor of New York was supposed to be a predictable affair. For months, it has seemed more like a coronation than a campaign, with Democrat Andrew Cuomo mounting a steady, calculated effort to win the state's top job.
Then along came Crazy Carl.
That's what one New York tabloid has taken to calling the Tea Party-backed Republican nominee, Carl Paladino. A brash real-estate mogul from Buffalo, Mr. Paladino has built his campaign on sheer rage - and very little else.
He has promised to clean out Albany - the state's notoriously dysfunctional capital - "with a baseball bat." He told one paper he would "take out Prince Andrew," a reference to his opponent, "leaving blood on the floor." He has called the state's politicians leeches, wimps, crooks and demons.
Such outbursts helped Mr. Paladino, 64, storm to victory in the Republican primary, trouncing the candidate favoured by the party's establishment. It even won him some early broader support, with a poll last month showing he had cut into Mr. Cuomo's considerable lead.
But something funny has happened on the road to Albany. Even in this rage-fuelled election season, it seems there is a limit to voter anger - and Mr. Paladino is slamming up against it.
His troubles echo those of several other Tea Party-backed candidates from Nevada to Delaware. After capitalizing on voter antipathy toward traditional politicians to win primaries, some have struggled to appeal to a wider audience, appearing more outlandish than revolutionary.
Over the past week, Mr. Paladino has levelled wild accusations against his opponent, saying Mr. Cuomo had extramarital affairs, with nothing to substantiate the claim. He had a near-physical altercation with a reporter, culminating in Mr. Paladino saying, "I'll take you out."
Even for those New Yorkers inclined to back him, Mr. Paladino's behaviour is starting to appear somewhat unhinged for a potential governor. A new poll released Thursday once again showed Mr. Cuomo, 52, with a commanding lead.
Mr. Paladino "needs to realize that running for office requires not just tapping into the anger and frustration that's out there," says John Faso, a lawyer and former Republican candidate for governor. "It also requires the discipline to keep talking about taxes, spending and jobs."
In an attempt to get his campaign back on course, Mr. Paladino broadcast an unusual two-minute television message Thursday, explaining his confrontation with the reporter as the reaction of a protective father, and challenging Mr. Cuomo to a debate. "This campaign must be about bigger issues, not affairs or divorces, because our state is in a death spiral," he said. "I have a plan and I'm not afraid to implement it."
Although Mr. Cuomo strongly denied Mr. Paladino's claims about his personal life, he hasn't launched ad-hominem attacks in return. The son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, Mr. Cuomo is currently the state's attorney-general. He has used the post to crack down on Wall Street abuses and corruption in public pension funds, all the while carefully preparing for what was considered an inevitable run for the governorship.
(The last two Democratic governors of New York both self-destructed: Eliot Spitzer resigned after a spectacular sex scandal while David Paterson is limping to the end of his term after a controversy erupted over his role in a domestic-violence dispute involving an aide.)
For long-time watchers of the New York scene, Mr. Paladino's candidacy is the latest manifestation of the regional divide in the state's politics. Areas such as Buffalo, mired in a long postindustrial decline, have little in common with New York City. For more than 50 years, every governor of the state has hailed from one of its five boroughs or the county just to its north.
Mr. Paladino has wasted no time in criticizing Manhattan as "home to smug, self-important, pampered liberal elitists." He has promised to use the government's limited right to expropriate property to prevent a mosque and community centre from being built near ground zero. And he has pledged to cut taxes, slash spending on health care and deport illegal immigrants.
In one of his more eccentric policy proposals, he suggested that underused state prisons be converted into dormitories for welfare recipients, where they would receive job training and lessons in personal hygiene.
Mr. Paladino's penchant for forwarding racist jokes and pornographic content to scores of friends - documented in repeated e-mails - is another potential liability for his campaign.
With less than a month left before the election, Mr. Paladino has little time to transform voters' impressions of him - and his recent efforts in that direction have fallen flat.
"He has proven that every time he gets up in the morning and wants to be the new Paladino, something happens that day," says Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at the State University of New York in New Paltz. "The realistic prospect of him being elected was slight and is diminishing."