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Experts: State of State speech sets up Cuomo's re-election bid

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in Bethel, N.Y. (Nov. 6, 2013) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo kicked off his re-election campaign over the past week, though he hasn't declared his candidacy.

Cuomo proposed tax cuts, announced a limited foray into legalizing medical marijuana, hosted Vice President Joe Biden and delivered a State of the State address that focused heavily on the accomplishments of his first three years in office.

He offered something for the political left and right while brandishing themes experts predicted he will use over and over again in 2014 -- and maybe in 2016 if he decides to run for president.

"It certainly sounded like an Andrew Cuomo 2014 kickoff speech to me," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia-based political consultant who works primarily with Republicans.

"It was a safe, almost cautious, election-year State of the State speech," Dawidziak said. "It was clearly a speech that tried to move him more toward the middle. And if you're thinking of 2016, you want to move to the middle if you want to sell yourself in the hinterlands of Iowa."

Some say Cuomo is positioning himself to possibly run for president in 2016 if Hillary Clinton doesn't. The governor has stockpiled nearly $29 million in his campaign account; money left over from a state race cannot be used to fund a federal campaign but can be transferred to a federal super political action committee supportive of the candidate's positions


Touting progress

In his speech Wednesday, Cuomo stuck with his traditional themes of reining in spending and making government work, mixing in socially liberal initiatives such as expansion of abortion rights. More than anything, Cuomo tried to hammer home the idea that things are better for New Yorkers since he took office in 2011.

"Long before Washington, D.C., put gridlock on the front pages, the story in Albany was gridlock," Cuomo told state lawmakers at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. "We stopped talking and we started doing, and in three years, my friends, you have reversed decades of decline."

Cuomo argued that every corner of the state is doing better.

"The progress is not just in the numbers. You can feel it in every region in our state," he said.

It's a message best viewed in a campaign context, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

"He's positioning himself to be seen as a centrist -- and that's the way you win big in New York and in presidential campaigns," Levy said.

Levy called it one of the "most subdued" of the 28 State of the State speeches he's heard in Albany. Cuomo offered low-key, incremental approaches to issues including school funding, medical marijuana and taxes, Levy said. He avoided controversies such as natural gas drilling, the strained finances of municipalities, "Common Core" academic standards and a legislative proposal to allow children of undocumented workers to qualify for college aid.

Staying moderate

Cuomo's address stood in contrast to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's inaugural speech, which focused on economic inequality. Democrat de Blasio has been to the left of Cuomo, championing a tax hike to help pay for expanded prekindergarten programs. Cuomo in the State of the State voiced support for pre-K, but said nothing about funding it.

"When you're trying to win big and capture the moderate middle, you want to avoid extremes," Levy said.

Republicans in the State Legislature, who will have to work with Cuomo on a budget, offered mild praise. But GOP officials preparing for this year's campaigns didn't.

State Republican chairman Ed Cox said Cuomo's pitch to cut corporate, manufacturing and estate taxes came right from the GOP agenda.

But Cox said Cuomo's claims of having turned New York around were overblown. Cox voiced a theme that Republicans are likely to ply throughout the year: that Cuomo has raised taxes while New York suffers from feeble job growth.

"After three years of raising taxes and driving jobs and citizens out of New York, does anyone really believe what Andrew Cuomo says anymore?" Cox said.

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