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Cuomo's primary win showed weaknesses


Joseph Spector, September 10, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic primary on Tuesday. But it wasn't the kind of victory he wanted, with his opponent winning 30 counties upstate.

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic primary Tuesday night, but it wasn't the convincing victory he likely hoped for and he showed weaknesses in large swaths of New York.

Cuomo won 62 percent to 34 percent against liberal foe Zephyr Teachout. But the Fordham University law professor fared better than expected and won 30 upstate counties, including the mid-Hudson Valley, Albany area and Mohawk Valley.

She did it without running a statewide ad and with less than $1 million raised. Cuomo meanwhile is a household name and started the summer with $35 million in his campaign warchest.

She was also aided by low turnout: Less than 10 percent of enrolled Democrats cast a ballot.

"I ran because I thought I could I do a better job than the other guy," Teachout told Gannett's Albany Bureau on Wednesday. "I would have loved to win, but I also ran to sort of break up this culture of fear that sort of pervaded New York politics."

The results were similar for lieutenant governor. Cuomo's running mate, Kathy Hochul, won 60 percent to 40 percent over Teachout's pick, Tim Wu, according to unofficial results.

Now Cuomo heads into the general election against Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, and may face few of the same problems that vexed him against Teachout.

Teachout won in areas that have large anti-hydrofracking contingents, such as the Catskills. She also won regions that are generally pro-union, particularly the Albany area with its large, unionized state workforce. Cuomo has clashed with public-employees unions over contracts since he took office in 2011, and none of them endorsed him, while the Public Employees Federation, the second largest in the state, backed Teachout.

Cuomo has also faced criticism for alleged meddling in the work of an anti-corruption commission he formed last year and disbanded in March; it's now under review by federal prosecutors.

Astorino supports hydrofracking, has called for stricter government spending and is pro-life in a state with twice as many enrolled Democrats than Republicans.

"I'll be willing to posit that (Cuomo) will carry a lot of those counties in November, but she found a geographic base and credit to her and her team without a lot of money for doing that," said Bruce Gyory, a Democratic strategist on "The Capitol Pressrom."

"Where we thought she would get her vote, in New York City, that did not occur. That was a bit of surprise," Gyory continued.

Astorino said Wednesday he was encouraged by the results, saying it shows a lack of enthusiasm for Cuomo, who is seeking a second term.

"The turnout was extraordinarily low, which proves the point of what we've been saying: There is no passion whatsoever for Andrew Cuomo," Astorino said on WGDJ-AM (1300). "None. I can't find it on the campaign trail."

Jeff Pollock, Cuomo's pollster, said the results were largely the function of low turnout and anti-incumbent sentiment nationally. He said Cuomo would work to secure support across the state in advance of the Nov. 4 election and his positions are more in line with the general electorate than Astorino's.

"Low turnout is going to be a real factor in any kind of primary like this," Pollock said on "The Capitol Pressroom."

Historically, the bar for Teachout was about 20 percent going into the primary, which also included activist Randy Credico, who garnered 4 percent of the vote.

But she did better than expected in upstate, despite living in Brooklyn and looking to tap into the liberal New York City voter base that helped Bill de Blasio win as mayor last year.

Cuomo won 68 percent to 29 percent in New York City and cruised in western New York and its two largest population bases: Erie and Monroe counties.

He also won Long Island and Westchester and Rockland counties – the key New York City suburbs.

But north of Westchester, Teachout won most of the eastern half of the state, beating Cuomo in Ulster and Dutchess counties, the entire Capital region and the Finger Lakes, including the liberal bastion Tompkins County. In Columbia County, just south of Albany, won with 78 percent of the vote -- her best showing statewide.

Teachout beat Cuomo 71 percent to 28 percent in Tompkins County, home to Ithaca.

Tompkins County Democratic Chairwoman Irene Stein said she believes Cuomo was hurt in the county by his lack of a position on hydraulic fracturing, as well as the passage of a property-tax cap in 2011 and questions about the disbandment of the corruption-busting Moreland Commission.

Cuomo hasn't decided on whether to proceed with fracking, the controversial technique used to help extract natural gas.

Stein, a longtime Cuomo backer, said she still supports him and is hopeful he will adapt based on the primary returns.

"He is the winner, but I don't think he will just say 'I won' and march on," Stein said Wednesday. "I think he will listen very carefully to what people have said in this vote and make very deliberate decisions in relation to it."

In 2006, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi picked up 18 percent of the vote in a gubernatorial primary against then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. That same year, anti-war activist Jonathan Tasini picked up 17 percent against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Teachout's showing was the best of any primary competitor to an incumbent governor since primaries in New York started in 1970, the New York Times reported.

Cuomo is holding a campaign rally Wednesday in Buffalo.

In a statement Tuesday night, Cuomo said the state has made extraordinary progress under his tenure, such as four on-time state budgets, ending gridlock at the Capitol, improving the economy and enacting tough gun-control laws.

"Our state can never succeed if we refuse to believe in it," Cuomo said. "New York is on its way to reclaiming its place as a model for the nation and the world."