GOP gubernatorial contender would face uphill fight

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino strongly criticized Gov.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino strongly criticized Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on a variety of fronts on April 25, 2012. (Credit: Faye Murman)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

bio | email

Nobody knows the outcome of a campaign at its outset, but in this case, you can strongly suspect it.

Republican Rob Astorino seems to realize that choosing to challenge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would place him in the face of a gale-force wind. The second-term Westchester executive, who first won that job in 2009 against long odds, has suggested in public statements he can go on to win the bigger prize nonetheless.

Democratic operatives say the numbers are forbidding for Astorino. They see him needing close to a third of the New York City vote, at least 60 percent upstate, and decisive margins in the downstate suburbs to pull it off.

Cuomo as of last month had more than $33 million in his campaign fund. Major-league funding and the bully pulpit afforded by high office can allow an incumbent to define a challenger early. So Cuomo will have the option of selling Astorino as out-of-step with popular opinion on various hot issues.

Astorino, meanwhile, will need to raise big money to convince New Yorkers that the state is regressing, or at least adrift. He'll need to demolish the sheen of Cuomo's "New York rising" publicity slogan and lay persistent economic problems at the governor's door. But raising cash, Astorino also knows, will be harder for any underdog.

"There is a path," said a Republican consultant who likes Astorino as the nominee. "But there are a lot of things that have to fall into place."

For his part Cuomo, who won Long Island in 2010 over "mad-as-hell" Buffalo Republican Carl Paladino, keeps unusually cordial relations with Nassau Republicans. Exhibit A: County Executive Edward Mangano who, like Astorino, unseated a heavily favored Democratic incumbent in 2009, then won re-election last November. Of the two, Mangano had the bigger 2013 victory margin.

It is hard to imagine Mangano, or Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) or his Long Island colleagues reversing the tone of the past three years so sharply that they'd suddenly lead a charge to reject Cuomo. And Nassau is the county with the most registered Republicans (330,442) in the state.

Even before this year's candidates begin debating minimum wage, taxes, gas drilling, gun rights, women's agendas, ethics or education programs, you can see the overall power of first-term incumbencies.

The last time New York voters ousted a governor who'd just served his first elected term was in 1958, when Republican Nelson Rockefeller beat four-year Democratic incumbent W. Averill Harriman.

One-termers have been the exception, in recent decades, in other elected executive jobs, from county executive, to New York City mayor -- and all the way up to U.S. president.