5 Takeaways From New York’s Election Results
Posted September 14, 2018 11:08 a.m. EDT
The Democratic primary between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon was over in about the time it takes to watch an episode of “Sex and the City.” The Associated Press called the race 30minutes after the polls closed, as soon as it became apparent that the governor, a two-term incumbent and a Queens native, had rolled up big margins in the five boroughs.
Nixon conceded about an hour later, though not before taking a few swipes at her corporate-donation backed opponent, and pronouncing her campaign a victory. “We have fundamentally changed the political landscape in this state,” she said.
Cuomo said nothing at all. He didn’t need to. The voters had spoken for him by giving him more than 65 percent of the vote.
Here are five takeaways from a race that drew 1.5 million New Yorkers to the polls — roughly 2 1/2 times the turnout of four years ago:
— Cuomo kept it old school. It worked.
He had the unions. He had the money. He had the television ads and mailers.
She had the buzz. She had the celebrity. She had what seemed like grass-roots energy.
She got crushed.
Cuomo, who started working on campaigns for his father in the 1980s, ran about as traditional an incumbent re-election strategy as there is. He forced Nixon to work around the margins of New York politics, making her scramble for supporters and places to hold events, setting the date and details of their lone debate (down to the draped desks, her campaign complained) and generally driving the conversation — all while intentionally ignoring her.
“He effectively worked the institutional groups. I would argue his view of the world is fairly outdated,” said Bradley Tusk, who served as campaign manager for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “But in terms of executing that approach, he’s as good as it gets.”
On Thursday, Cuomo’s team seemed to be relishing their victory lap over Nixon, and was disdainful of her social-media-first approach to campaigning.
“Quick reminder,” Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide in New York government, wrote minutes after the race was called for her boss. “Twitter is not real life.”
— Cynthia Nixon never hit her stride
On paper, Nixon had a unique and potentially potent mix. She was a woman in a year in which female candidates have been popular and successful. As a longtime activist and education advocate, she had heartily embraced ideas like universal health care and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, both catnip for progressives.
And as an award-winning actress with an easy manner, Nixon could be charming in person and fiery and inspiring in her rhetoric, particularly in her denunciations of Cuomo.
Yet, for all of that, Nixon never seemed to connect with voters outside her left-wing base, as polls repeatedly showed her trailing among every demographic, almost always by double-digits. Her final tally — about 34 percent — was slightly higher than her earlier polls showed, but nowhere near the 40 percent mark her supporters had hoped for as a face saver.
Several things may have contributed to Thursday’s outcome: Nixon had stumbled on a couple of policy questions, and never really seemed to completely warm to public speaking. But in the end it may have been something simpler.
— Cuomo focused on Trump, not Nixon
Cuomo’s focus in the race never wavered: He was running against President Donald Trump, not Nixon.
The strategy allowed Cuomo — who has spent most of his career ruling and running from the center — to present himself as a progressive warrior in a way that his record might not always support. For most of his seven-plus years in office, after all, Cuomo has had a friendly working relationship with Republicans, and has failed to push hard for a number of liberal priorities, such as campaign finance reform.
During the early days of the Trump administration, Cuomo had scrupulously avoided criticizing the president by name, even suggesting there might be a benefit to New York if Trump helped pay for infrastructure.
Not so during the closing days of the campaign, when the governor openly mocked Trump, going so far Wednesday as to call him “that boy” and — gulp — not a real New Yorker.
— You may hear more about the bridge and the anti-Semitism mailer
For a man with some four decades in the public eye and untold numbers of speeches, Cuomo can still get himself in trouble with his extemporaneous speaking habits. There were a series of cringe-inducing moments in March when he suggested that Jewish people can’t dance and, more famously, when he said that America “was never that great” in August.
The remark about America’s lack of greatness earned howls of criticism and predictions of the end of his always-denied presidential ambitions — as well as some sniping from Trump’s Twitter account — though it didn’t seem to affect the outcome of the primary race. Whether it comes up in the race against Marcus J. Molinaro, the Republican candidate, remains to be seen.
Cuomo’s campaign also was heavily criticized for a pair of moves in the closing week: an inflammatory flyer that suggested Nixon was anti-Semitic and his push to open a new bridge over the Hudson River, affixed with Cuomo’s father’s name.
— It was status quo at the top, an earthquake below
On the surface, it seemed like a triumph for the establishment. Cuomo coasted. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul won (albeit narrowly). Letitia James, Cuomo’s choice for attorney general, carried the day, too.
But Albany in 2019 will not be the same as Albany in 2018.
That is because six of the eight members of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference were felled Thursday, including their leader, Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx. The results represented an almost once-in-a-generation upheaval for a capital city where change can cause allergic reactions.
“We will not tolerate the same old way of doing politics,” said Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated Klein. “Enough.”
Democrats must still pick off at least one Republican seat this fall to seize the state Senate majority. But if they do, the party will be represented by a drastically different cast of characters.
“Some of the elements that won’t be around anymore were sources of division,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who feuded with Klein. “It should be more unified.”