Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
When Ben Smith wrote on Wednesday about Cuomo’s bad Election Day, I’m not sure he was exactly accounting for all the ways it was bad for Cuomo:
“Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's juggernaut campaign for governor of New York looked weaker early Wednesday morning than it has since he became the presumptive candidate for governor on or about the day Eliot Spitzer resigned.”
Bad because the right is energized, and bad because Cuomo’s presumptive choice for Attorney General – Kathleen Rice, a woman, a suburbanite, a prosecutor, and arguably the most centrist of the AG candidates – lost to Eric Schneiderman, who had the backing of unions and African Americans that is usually associated with left-leaning New York politicians.
But there’s another way the day might not be great for Cuomo – it gives Democrats who don’t like Cuomo someone else to vote for. It sounds strange that Democrats would vote for the further right of the candidates – but there’s a reason.
Rick Lazio’s a tough sell among New York Democrats, who never forgot his menacing approach to Hillary Clinton ten years ago in their debate for U.S. Senate. But just like Paladino became a blank slate for Tea Partiers and Republicans who were frustrated with the establishment, so too can he become a palimpest for Democrats looking for an alternative to Cuomo, who wrapped up the nomination with virtually no discussion.
Don’t believe me? Wednesday morning, while hosting The Brian Lehrer Show, Mack called in from Long Island, and said that compared to Cuomo, he's the better choice.
"Andrew Cuomo, who I just don't trust, I think he's part of the typical machine, he raised $26 million, a lot of it mysteriously through these LLCs that he's not disclosing. I just don't trust him, I think he's going to be business as usual."
Now, you might think that Mack is isolated. And that well may be. But before you think that it’s only the rare Democrat who would vote simply out of pique, consider that Michael Bloomberg, with overwhelming job approval, just squeaked by in his bid for a third term last year. Voters told me, in so many words, that they didn’t want Democratic candidate Bill Thompson to be mayor, but they were voting for him anyway because they were angry about Bloomberg’s successful effort to overturn term-limits, his death star of a $100 million campaign, or just his billionaire personality. There may be some who feel exactly that way about Paladino: they don’t want him to govern, but they don’t want Cuomo just to march in either.
The analogy is imperfect. Cuomo isn’t running for a third term, and he’s not a billionaire. He’s been a generally admired Attorney General who’s fought the right enemies (banks, pension fund managers, corrupt politicians) for the times. But not only is Cuomo his father’s son, he was part of his father’s administration. Like Eliot Spitzer, he scared off all opposition, and gathered the disparate threads of the Democratic party around him before anyone (troubled incumbent Governor David Paterson aside) could even think of running a campaign against him.
Don’t get me wrong. Cuomo’s campaign is still a juggernaut, and when I mentioned the possibility of a Democrats-for-Paladino phenomenon on The Brian Lehrer Show, the extremely-knowledgeable Nate Silver and Melinda Hennenberger kind of laughed it off. Hennenberger said Cuomo looks pretty good to voters.
"Given the recent history of New York governors I think he [Cuomo] has a low bar to meet so I think he's going to look good. A lot would have to happen for him to come in as a disappointment."
But Cuomo is reputed to have White House ambitions, and he’s as much as said that he wants his campaign to snowball, so that he comes to Albany with a big mandate for change. That’s what it will take, Cuomo has argued, to get reform through Albany. The crusading army motif is somewhat more inspirational that Carl Paladino’s vow to smash the state capitol with a baseball bat.
But still, as Paladino’s decisive victory in the Republican primary showed, he’s not a bad vessel for voters – Democrats, even – fed up with the status quo. Or as Paladino rather brilliantly coined the term, “status Cuomo.”