A federal judge ordered state Republicans on Friday to open their March presidential primary to all four of the party's remaining candidates, a victory for John McCain who had fought efforts to keep him off the ballots in many districts.
The judge struck down major parts of the GOP's complicated ballot rules, saying they gave an unfair advantage to candidates favored by the party establishment.
The decision came a day after Gov. George Pataki decided to abandon a politically damaging _ and clearly losing _ effort to keep McCain's name off ballots in more than one-third of New York's congressional districts.
Pataki and the state party are backing Bush and had hoped to guarantee him an easy ride through the primary.
But McCain made his ballot troubles a potent campaign issue, using it to bolster his image as a renegade and likening New York's system to that of the former Soviet Union.
Sensing voters' frustration, the Bush campaign asked state party officials this week not to appeal if the judge ruled against them in the lawsuit filed by McCain and joined by Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes.
"I am glad there will not be a repetition of the kind of machine-style political control of the process of selecting the nominee of our party," McCain said after the judge's order.
State leaders said they would not appeal.
U.S. District Judge Edward Korman declared the party's requirements unfairly abridged New Yorkers' voting rights by making it too difficult for legitimate candidates to get on primary ballots.
Korman said it was clear party leaders were using petition requirements to block ballot access.