World: The insurgency roared. But Cuomo prevailed

The insurgency roared. But Cuomo prevailed

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was the epitome of the very establishment the Democratic left has been frothing against: He raised big checks from big corporate powers. He was a dynastic candidate seeking a third term. He talked about capping taxes and constraining spending.

And he won a resounding victory Thursday.

Cuomo turned back a progressive primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon in such emphatic fashion — he won by nearly the same margin as he had four years ago against a little-known and underfunded challenger — that by the next morning, he was back to being asked about 2020 presidential ambitions that he had flatly denied only weeks ago.

The victory was thorough. Cuomo carried Long Island with roughly 75 percent of the vote. He won the Bronx, his best county in the state, with nearly 83 percent support. His next best borough in the city was its political polar opposite: Staten Island. He flipped parts of the Hudson Valley that he lost four years ago by double digits.

“It was upstate. It was downstate, white black, brown — it was across the board,” Cuomo said Friday, ticking off his margin in particular districts, even as he said he hadn’t fully studied the numbers.

Cuomo pledged to serve out a full third term if he defeats the Republican candidate, Marcus Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, in November.

His decisive win Thursday — less than three months after Rep. Joseph Crowley’s stunning defeat at the hands of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a congressional primary — was the latest sign that the wildfire of progressive energy that is burning through the Democratic Party nationally may not be potent enough to topple leading Democrats statewide. No incumbent Democratic governors or senators lost primaries this year, in contrast to the early Tea Party victories over establishment Republicans in 2010.

Cuomo said his triumph was a testament to all that he had accomplished in his two terms, citing specifically same-sex marriage, raising the minimum wage and paid family leave. His critics and opponents proposed only “academic” arguments and ethereal ideas. “We have provided real-life solutions,” he said.

It was a variation on one of his favorite themes that he has used to bludgeon rivals, from Nixon to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “You cannot have the word progressive without the word progress. It doesn’t work,” he said. “And we provided and achieved progress and that’s the message of last night.”

The message was an unsubtle brushback to his critics on the left, who have pushed for liberal goals, like Medicare for all and higher taxes on millionaires, reminding them that they will not be defining the terms of the debate in New York for at least another four years — even as the party seeks full control of the state Legislature this fall.

“The story of this race is he’s too good at his job, too progressive,” said Ken Sunshine, a longtime friend of Cuomo and Democratic activist. “And she was just a stiff as a candidate.”

The win did not come cheaply. Cuomo is expected to have spent $25 million to squash Nixon’s primary challenge. The sum surprised even her team, which had expected that the notoriously spendthrift governor would not empty so much of his war chest on a primary that no polls had ever shown as particularly close.

“We can maybe do it when we’re outspent 3-to-1, or 4-to-1, but not 10-to-1, or 20-to-1,” said Rebecca Katz, a top adviser to Nixon, who had raised $2.5 million with about 10 days left in the race.

But the ever-competitive Cuomo took no chances, determined not just to win but to do so decisively, hoping for a mandate before a third term that has proved treacherous for other politicians.

Progressives who had hoped for a check on Cuomo’s power in Albany were disappointed, as insurgents who allied with Nixon lost the races for attorney general and lieutenant governor.

In a bright spot for liberal activists, a crop of challengers beat six former members of the Independent Democratic Conference, the rogue Democrats who had formed a coalition with Republicans. If Democrats take over the state Senate next year, they hope a new political center of gravity will have formed away from Cuomo.

“When he returns, he’s still gonna be on the chessboard, but he’s no longer gonna control the players like he did before,” said Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party.

Cuomo, like his aides, could scarcely mask his contempt for the social media tactics of his erstwhile opponent, on Friday dismissing the buzz around Nixon’s celebrity campaign as “some Twittersphere dialogue where I tweet you, you tweet me and between the two of us we think we have a wave.”

“Not even a ripple,” he added.

Cuomo, who served as campaign manager for his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, more than three decades ago, has more or less cornered the support of every significant institutional player in New York and across the country.

At one point, he was announcing the endorsements of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Tom Perez, the Democratic national chairman; Nixon was countering with City Council members and community activists.

Nixon would have been New York’s first female governor, but the state’s chapter of the National Organization for Women was with Cuomo. She would have been the state’s first gay governor, but the nation’s leading gay-rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign, stood with him, not her.

And when it was clear that the Working Families Party, a minor party in New York with outsize influence among progressives, was going to endorse Nixon, its labor union financiers who were allied with Cuomo pulled out of the party entirely.

“They were able to reach out to groups, and create that base fear of, ‘What happens to my constituents, what happens to my legislation, what happens to this project if I step out?'” said L. Joy Williams, a senior adviser to Nixon.

Nixon had banked her campaign on shifting the electorate, bringing in newly energized liberals in the age of President Donald Trump. They may have turned out on Thursday, but so did legions of Cuomo supporters, with 1.5 million voters compared with the 575,000 who voted in the 2014 primaries.

The numbers are stark: Cuomo could have beaten Nixon’s statewide total number of votes — with room to spare — with his vote haul from the four boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, roughly 550,000 to 511,000.

“I believe this race should be looked to as an example of incumbents, facing a restless base, can really fortify it,” said Lis Smith, a strategist for Cuomo.

A linchpin of the strategy was to campaign against Trump, with Cuomo railing against him in a drumbeat of news releases, tweets, lawsuits and letters — a message he continued Friday. “Just as our progressive accomplishments are real, the fear of Trump is real,” Cuomo said.

In an unusual move, Cuomo did not appear in public on election night, watching the results privately in Albany.

Cuomo’s senior aides, however, decamped to a bar in Albany where they sipped pink cosmos — a reference to the cocktail in which Nixon’s character indulged on “Sex and the City” — toasting their boss and themselves and firing warning shots to those who had not joined them in the war that was.

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top lieutenant as secretary to the governor, wrote on Twitter of the “so many electeds and others” who she accused of “making cynical moves based on their finger in the wind calculus” and opposing Cuomo’s ticket.

“The people of NY disagreed with them — and the people of New York, and Governor Cuomo were right and they were wrong,” she wrote.

The next morning, Cuomo and DeRosa sat together at a news conference in his Midtown office to announce the state’s support for Hurricane Florence relief efforts.

Once he dispatched with that news, Cuomo let loose on the election results. He entered the room flanked by two of his top aides and uniformed members of the National Guard, though they never spoke. (“You didn’t talk?” one was heard asking the other by the elevators afterward. “No, not at all,” came the reply.)

Cuomo spoke enough for all, lecturing those who had the temerity to doubt him. “I am progressive,” he said. “I deliver progressive results.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Shane Goldmacher, Jesse McKinley and Vivian Wang © 2018 The New York Times

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