New York Governor: Still Solid Democratic

by Jacob Rubashkin August 16, 2021 · 9:06 AM EDT

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s surprise resignation is already sending shockwaves through the New York political world, from Albany to New York City.

But one thing the three-term incumbent’s exit doesn’t change is our outlook on the state’s 2022 gubernatorial contest, which remains Solid Democratic.

If anything, Cuomo’s decision to step down rather than fight through an inevitable impeachment process should make Democrats feel better about their chances in next year’s midterm election. By leaving quietly (at least for now), the scandal-plagued incumbent gives Democrats an opportunity to move their focus beyond the sexual harassment allegations and nursing home investigation that have captured headlines for the last several months.

Even before the release of state Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report on Cuomo’s behavior toward women, the governor had seen his popularity fall among the state’s voters, down substantially from its peak last summer during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, New York’s strong partisan lean made him the clear general election favorite. But in the wake of the report, Cuomo is radioactive among general election voters and even voters in his own party, many of whom were liable to support a primary challenger had he chosen to run for a record fourth term.

Democrats will now have to sort through a potentially divisive and expensive primary, but that’s not a reason to believe they could lose control of the state.

The party has a deep bench of politicians looking to fill the vacuum left by the 11-year incumbent. Incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul is not well known statewide, especially in New York City and on Long Island, which together cast 67 percent of the votes in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary. But her upstate ties shouldn’t be discounted, especially when so many of the other potential contenders are from downstate. Hochul will also benefit from a year’s worth of incumbency, and the advantages in fundraising and news coverage that brings.

James is the other obvious contender, and one who has seen her profile raised by Cuomo’s resignation. And then there are a dozen or more members of Congress, statewide elected officials, and state legislators who will take a look at running.

No matter who the Democratic nominee is, they will begin as the prohibitive favorite in a general election. The Empire State has not elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002, when George Pataki won a third term as governor over Democrat Carl McCall. Pataki was also the last non-incumbent Republican to win a statewide election, all the way back in 1994, when he defeated Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario in that year’s Republican wave.

Republicans today look very different than the pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control Pataki, both in New York and nationwide, as evidenced by his forgettable 2016 presidential campaign’s failure to make it past the kids’ table.

The leading contenders for the GOP nomination are 1st District Rep. Lee Zeldin, former Trump White House aide Andrew Giuliani (who is also the son of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani) and former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

While Zeldin represents a swingy eastern Long Island district, he’s also one of former President Donald Trump’s strongest allies in the House. He took a leading role in defending Trump during the first impeachment proceedings, signed the amicus brief in support of Texas’ lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and voted against the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6.

Giuliani, a 35-year-old former professional golfer who claims he has five decades of political experience, has spent his campaign touring Upstate New York and trying to position himself as the true Trump candidate in the race, with all the bombast and quirky Twitter presence that entails.

Astorino most recently lost re-election as Westchester County executive in 2017, and before that he lost the 2014 gubernatorial contest to Cuomo by 14 points despite a banner year for Republican candidates nationwide, including in blue states such as Massachusetts and Maryland.

The governors of those two states, Republicans Charlie Baker and Larry Hogan, are often held up as evidence that Republicans can win gubernatorial elections in deeply Democratic states. 

And that’s certainly true. But Baker and Hogan are both moderate, business friendly, uncontroversial politicians who are among the most prominent anti-Trump figures in today’s GOP. Zeldin, Giuliani, and Astorino are not Republicans in the mold of Baker, Hogan, or Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

Any of them would have had the best shot against a damaged Cuomo. Now that Cuomo has (seemingly) taken himself out of contention, there’s no reason to believe that any of the Republican hopefuls have a meaningful path to victory.

That could certainly change over the next 16 months. If the events of the past year have taught us anything, it is that a lot can change in a little time. But at the moment, things continue to look solid for Democrats and whomever they nominate next year.