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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Cuomo's next challenge: Facing Republican challenger Rob Astorino

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, on

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, on Jan. 8, 2014 in Albany, and his Republican opponent Rob Astorino on March 7, 2014 in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

Now that Zephyr Teachout's spirited candidacy has run its course, Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo turns all his political attention to the main event in which he faces Republican challenger Rob Astorino.

The general election crossfire began months ago and will intensify over the next two months. Its overarching theme: Whether the state is really moving forward on Cuomo's watch, and if not, whether the second-term Westchester County executive offers the solutions.

Only a small percentage of Democratic voters took part in Tuesday's primary. Proportionally, Teachout and running mate Tim Wu fared better than the usual "alternative" candidates. But the bottom line is that Cuomo won, as expected.

With Astorino in the city Tuesday, his campaign sent out a news release citing an AARP survey that found, as they phrased it, "60 percent of New Yorkers are now 'somewhat likely' to leave New York State after retirement."

"The Empire State has turned into the Vampire State for millions of seniors, young people, and businesses," Astorino said. He called for "bold tax and regulatory reforms."

It was just the latest example of Astorino's effort to puncture Cuomo's pronouncements of statewide progress since he took office. "We are losing as a state, and we're losing badly," Astorino said in a New York City appearance last week.

This is the obvious counterpoint to Cuomo's "New York Rising" message.

From here until Nov. 4, this version of "he-said-he-said" resumes.

After a tempest over Cuomo's early closure of a corruption commission, Astorino joined with the now defeated Teachout in whacking the governor on Albany ethics. Seeking to offset that angle of attack, the Cuomo-led state Democratic Committee was declaring by mid-July in somber ads that Astorino engages in "petty, corrupt politics" and can't be trusted.

Every long-term incumbent promotes a public image that becomes caricatured somewhere along the way. While the better-funded Cuomo campaign looks to mold the Astorino's image into one of an "extreme conservative" who is "anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-gun safety," Astorino is trying to benefit from what his aides see as a pre-existing image of Cuomo as a highhanded operator.

"There will be the underlying narrative of arrogance in the way he's governed," said a GOP campaign loyalist.

Tuesday, Cuomo got past what became an insurgency on his left from public employees and environmentalists miffed at his non-position for or against fracking. Astorino supports fracking, so on that issue, at least, the posturing shifts.

In the general election campaign, Cuomo will no longer need to worry, if he ever did, about looking "too Republican," as Teachout's backers called him. For his part, Astorino must try to make him look not at all Republican.

There are other flash points Astorino sees as potentially winning him votes -- such as dissatisfaction over testing in schools as practiced under the Common Core curriculum.

But polls show the Republican faces a sharp climb in a short time if he is to keep his candidacy from becoming the general-election version of a protest vote.

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