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Andrew Cuomo may be the single most popular politician in America right now

Posted May 1, 2020 11:46 a.m. EDT

— Thrust into the national spotlight by his state's status as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has rapidly become one of -- if not the -- single most popular politician in the country for his handling of the pandemic.

Cuomo's poll numbers are, literally, unbelievable. A new Siena College poll released this week showed Cuomo's overall favorability among New Yorkers at 77% while 71% approved of the job he is doing for the state. Asked who they trusted more to make the right decision about when to reopen New York, 78% chose Cuomo while 16% opted for President Donald Trump.

Cuomo's stratospheric numbers are driven by remarkable bipartisan support. Yes, 90% of Democrats view him favorably. But 73% of independents say the same as do a majority (53%!) of Republicans.

And, they represent a stunning turnaround for Cuomo who, as recently as February, had an overall job approval of just 36%. Cuomo's handling of the coronavirus has, without exaggeration, flipped public opinion about him in, roughly, six weeks. In fact, it's a turnaround that not even George W. Bush experienced in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In a Gallup poll conducted September 7-10, 2001, Bush's job approval was at 51%, By the next Gallup poll on September 21-22, 2001, it had soared to 90%.

But, even before the cataclysm of September 11, Bush was in mildly positive territory with the American public. Cuomo was seen as doing a good job by just 1 in 3 New Yorkers before the coronavirus hit.

Now, 7 in 10 approve of the job he is doing.

Cuomo has insisted he isn't focused on poll numbers as he continues to fight the virus in his state, which has more than 300,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with more than 23,500 New Yorkers dead. But, Trump has taken notice of the New York governor's remarkable ratings -- and even sought to take credit for them himself.

"So I mean, one of the things -- and I think (Cuomo would) admit this -- one of the reasons he's been successful, if I said, 'No, we're not giving you four hospitals and we're not giving you four medical centers and we're not sending you a ship' then he's got to, and we didn't give them thousands of ventilators, by the way, and millions of masks, because we've sent them a lot of stuff," Trump said on "Fox & Friends." "Well, one of the reasons he's successful is because we've helped make him successful."

That, like many analyses offered by Trump, gives the President far too much credit. Cuomo's poll numbers have far less to do with Trump and far more to do with the governor's everywhere-all-the-time approach to dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Cuomo's daily press briefings on the state of the state's fight against the virus have become must-see TV -- as Cuomo ranges from stern father to loving counselor to frank friend and back. He has also benefited from radical transparency about what he knows and doesn't know about the state's fight against the coronavirus. And from his naturally micromanaging style.

Cuomo often came under criticism for being, essentially, a terrific bureaucrat but it's that intimate knowledge of the state and its government apparatus that has served him extremely well in this moment.

All of which begs the question of what's next for Cuomo. After all, he is only 62 years old -- 15 years younger than presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden! -- and in the middle of his third term as governor of the Empire State. Prior to all of this, Cuomo was widely expected to run for a fourth term -- something his father, Mario, did in 1994 but lost at the hands of George Pataki. A fourth term for Andrew Cuomo would then be both redemptive and historic -- as he would be the first New York governor since Nelson Rockefeller in 1970 to win four terms in the job.

While that race for a fourth term in 2022 is a long way off, Cuomo's current polling strength, coupled with New York's clear Democratic tilt, make him a heavy favorite. At which point, other questions will arise. Because if Biden loses to Trump this November, the presidency will be open -- for Democrats and Republicans in 2024 -- when Cuomo, at 66 years old, will be in the middle of a fourth term.

Cuomo has been, to date, definitive about his lack of interest in running for president -- ever. Witness this exchange in late March between Cuomo and his younger brother -- and CNN anchor -- Chris on the issue:

C. CUOMO: Let me ask you something. With all of this adulation that you're getting for doing your job, are you thinking about running for President? Tell the audience.

A. CUOMO: No. No.

C. CUOMO: No, you won't answer?

A. CUOMO: No. I answered. The answer is "No." I answered the question.

C. CUOMO: No, you're not thinking about it?

A. CUOMO: Sometimes, it's one word. I said "No." No.

C. CUOMO: Have you thought about it?

A. CUOMO: No.

C. CUOMO: Are you open to thinking about it?

A. CUOMO: No.

C. CUOMO: Might you think about it at some point?

A. CUOMO: No.

C. CUOMO: How can you know what you might think about at some point right now?

A. CUOMO: Because I know what I might think about, and what I won't think about.

Here's the thing: Circumstances change. Andrew Cuomo's political trajectory prior to this coronavirus pandemic may well not be what it looks like today or in a month or in a year. Sky-high poll numbers like Cuomo has at the moment are not the sort of thing any politician ignores.

What the future holds for Cuomo is hard to predict. But what's far clearer is that Cuomo's competent and, at times, charismatic handling of the coronavirus crisis in his state has made him one of the most popular politicians in America today.

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