Cynthia Nixon faces powerful headwinds in New York governor’s race
NEW YORK — Cynthia Nixon’s campaign has said from the beginning that the “enthusiasm gap” between her and two-term New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is so large, her supporters would turn out in a hurricane to cast their votes.
Hurricane Florence threatens to menace the East Coast later this week. To test Nixon’s assertion, it would have to swing north and speed up to wallop voter turnout in Thursday’s New York primary election. Even if it did, Nixon may need more than that to match the success that other insurgent Democrats, particularly women, have achieved in races across the U.S. this year.
A Siena College poll Monday showed she trails Cuomo by 41 percentage points, with likely voters favoring the governor by 63 percent to 22 percent. If she expected a bump from an Aug. 29 televised debate with Cuomo, the poll didn’t show it. Nor did it indicate any injury from Cuomo’s gaffe last month, when he tried to deflate President Donald Trump’s slogan and wound up surprising his friendly audience by declaring that America “was never that great.”
Since then there have been more Cuomo stumbles. He has been playing damage control over a pre-Rosh Hashana mailing by the Cuomo-controlled New York Democratic State Committee that depicted Nixon as weak against anti-Semitism, falsely asserting that she supports an anti-Israel boycott and opposes aid to Yeshivas. It forced Cuomo on the defensive, with an outcry that hasn’t stopped after the governor insisted he’d been unaware of what he described as “a mistake.”
That uproar followed a much ballyhooed ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a Hudson River bridge north of the city named after Cuomo’s father, only to see the bridge closed within hours after it was deemed unsafe. Last week, The New York Times endorsed Cuomo, but not before listing his failures in fighting corruption, fixing the subways and protecting tenants from rent gouging.
While Cuomo’s campaign has focused on depicting him as Trump’s most effective adversary, Nixon has attacked Cuomo for taking millions of dollars from landlords, real estate developers and other corporate interests. Cuomo also disbanded an investigative commission that was looking into public wrongdoing, and three of his former top aides have been convicted on federal bribery charges.
Nixon’s road to victory, as she tells it, runs parallel to the paths taken by other Democrats who defied the polls this year to oust better financed incumbents or establishment-backed candidates. They include Andrew Gillum, now running for governor of Florida; Ayanna Pressley, who won a Massachusetts congressional race; and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat 10-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley in the primary and is now campaigning for Nixon.
“This is an insurgent campaign,” Nixon said last week on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” “So many people in the establishment are not grasping the moment we are in.”
Yet, in the Siena poll’s measure of intensity of support, Nixon fared worse than Cuomo. Almost 90 percent of his backers say they’re voting to show support for him, while about half of Nixon’s say they’re more motivated to vote against Cuomo.
“While the Nixon campaign has talked about increased turnout among new, young and more progressive voters, it doesn’t appear that that will help her — even if an increase in turnout among those groups occurs,” said Siena poll director Steven Greenberg. Likely Democratic primary voters view Cuomo far more favorably than Nixon, particularly African-Americans, who back Cuomo over Nixon by a margin of 84 percent to 7 percent, he said.
“She has not inspired widespread confidence that she can run a state government,” said George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant who was press secretary to former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. “Meanwhile, he has the people in state jobs, the people dependent upon government services, the vendors, the contractors. That’s a very committed group, and they are going to come out to vote no matter what the weather is.”
The Nixon campaign insists that such polls fail to count the most motivated, progressive voters who have turned out to score upsets in other primaries this year.
“This guy is running for a third term. There’s really not a ton of enthusiasm for him, people aren’t going to brave a hurricane for Andrew Cuomo,” Nixon communications director Lauren Hitt said last week. “We have got the hard core supporters who really feel they have to show up.”
Hitt said the more reliable measures of voter enthusiasm and momentum can be found in Nixon attracting 1 million campaign video viewers on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or the hundreds who came out to cheer her during a six-city, three-day upstate tour last week. Supporters have logged about 500,000 voter-to-voter texts urging support for Nixon, Hitt said.
“We know who our voters are, it’s not a question of persuading people to our side,” Hitt said. “We just have to make sure the younger, more progressive Democrats know when and where to vote, and then making sure they do.”
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