The original Libertarian candidate was New York City radio personality Howard Stern, who announced his candidacy for governor on his nationally syndicated radio show on March 22, 1994 on a platform of reinstating the death penalty and promising to resign as soon as this goal was accomplished. Shortly thereafter the Libertarian Party drafted Stern to run on their ticket; Stern won the party's nomination by a two-thirds majority over Buffalo activist James Ostrowski on the first ballot at their state convention on April 23, 1994. However, Stern refused to file the financial disclosures required by law of any party seeking to hold public office; he filed suit against the state of New York arguing the law violated his right to privacy and freedom of association. When the court denied his petition for injunction, Stern called a press conference on August 4, 1994 and withdrew from the election.
Though early on in the election Cuomo lead by as much as ten points, Pataki was eventually able to tie him due to his difficulty in defending his record. Pataki promised to cut income taxes by 25 percent which appealed to voters in an economic downturn.
One key issue in the election was capital punishment. Cuomo had long been a staunch opponent of the death penalty while Pataki supported it. In the 1980s and early 1990s most New Yorkers supported capital punishment due to high crime rates. Republican ads pointed to the case of Arthur Shawcross, a multiple murderer convicted of manslaughter who was paroled by New York in 1987 and committed additional murders while on release (during the time Cuomo was governor). This revelation caused a significant loss of support for Cuomo.