Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday defeated a little-known, underfunded challenger in a Democratic primary that exposed the left wing of the party's dissatisfaction with the governor.
With 98 percent of election districts reporting statewide, Cuomo led Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University professor, 62.1 percent to 34.2 percent -- a stronger showing for the insurgent than political experts had predicted.
Teachout ran stronger in Suffolk County, where Cuomo won, 55 percent to 43 percent. Cuomo led in Nassau County, 65-32 percent, with 86 percent of districts reporting. Preliminary results showed Teachout winning most upstate counties.
Democrats' enthusiasm for the primary proved dismal.
Statewide, turnout appeared headed for about 9 percent.
Cuomo now faces Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, in November.
"Today's outcome is a testament to the progress we have made together over the last four years: restoring economic opportunity, replacing dysfunction with results, putting people before politics and re-establishing New York as a progressive leader for the nation," Cuomo -- who kept a low profile throughout the campaign and didn't hold a victory celebration -- said in a statement. He congratulated Teachout on "running a spirited campaign."
Teachout attacked Cuomo's pro-business tax initiatives, education policies and his lack of action on natural gas drilling. She said she was the "traditional" Democrat and that the governor was more aligned with Republicans.
"This is a campaign that took on the machine," Teachout said as she thanked supporters in Manhattan.
"This campaign demonstrates a new force in New York politics and American politics," she said. "A fearless force."
Cuomo, with a $35 million campaign fund and a huge lead in public opinion polls, deployed a classic "Rose Garden" strategy in which he barely campaigned and never acknowledged Teachout by name. Cuomo refused to debate her and didn't do a campaign event until Saturday.
"My basic point to the people of the state is, 'I'm doing a good job,' " Cuomo said Saturday of his lack of campaigning. "The way I campaign is by doing my job."
Though defeated, Teachout supporters claimed a moral victory by exceeding expectations.
"The current seated governor is feeling some heat," Bertha Lewis said at Teachout headquarters.
While the governor was inactive, the Cuomo campaign seemed to take no chances. Team Cuomo sent numerous mailers to enrolled Democrats and had a parade of high-profile party members vouch for his "progressive" credentials in the campaign's final week -- most notably, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Teachout sought to tap into liberal unrest that was sparked by the Occupy Wall Street protests and got its legs in propelling de Blasio to victory last year, analysts said.
"I think the original momentum for the left stems from the election of de Blasio," said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, a former state assemblyman from Nassau County who runs a consulting firm. "It was a coalition of traditional liberals and the way out left. They thought: 'If we can elect de Blasio and beat out the establishment, then we can do anything.' "
In Albany, the faction wanted public financing of political campaigns, a ban on drilling for natural gas, and de Blasio's plan to tax the wealthy to pay for prekindergarten expansion. Cuomo didn't go along with those initiatives. Many liberals also were upset with him for tacitly helping Republicans retain power in the State Senate -- an arrangement that blocked progressive legislation, activists said.
The unrest spurred Teachout's challenge to Cuomo for the nomination of the labor-backed Working Families Party in May. Cuomo prevailed at the party's convention -- but only after heated bargaining that resulted in Cuomo saying he'd work to change the Senate leadership.
Teachout then entered the Democratic primary. The Cuomo campaign tried to disqualify her from the contest based on residency issues. Courts dismissed Cuomo's lawsuit.
Along the way, she snared one major endorsement -- by the Public Employees Federation, a white-collar state-employees' union that battled Cuomo over labor contracts.
But Teachout lacked the organizational support that can flood homes with direct mail and provide phone banks and transportation to get out the vote on the day of the primary election, further hindering her chances.
Cuomo refused to debate Teachout. He finally spoke about her candidacy a day before the vote, saying she lacked the experience to be governor -- although he didn't address her by name.
"You can be a great college professor," Cuomo said Monday. "You need experience in government if you are going to run the state of New York. It's a big enterprise . . . There is no experience or knowledge that suggests the candidate has any idea on how to do the job."
With Laura Figueroa
and Michael Gormley