41° Good Evening
41° Good Evening

Primary raises issues for Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo, stands with his partner Sandra

Governor Andrew Cuomo, stands with his partner Sandra Lee, center, while addressing members of the media after casting a vote in the primary election Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, at the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Credit: AP / Craig Ruttle

ALBANY -- An insurgent's surprise showing in the Democratic primary exposed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's potential weak spots and energized his opponent, but doesn't significantly threaten his re-election chances, analysts said Wednesday.

Cuomo defeated Zephyr Teachout, a little-known Fordham University professor, 62 percent to 34 percent on Tuesday. But the tally by the underfunded political novice was much higher than experts predicted, revealing unrest with Cuomo among the party's left and public-employee unions, who want a more liberal policy and fiscal agenda, experts said.

The governor also might have erred by virtually not campaigning and by suing to disqualify his rival on legal grounds, they said.

"Politically, I think Cuomo inadvertently created this," said Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff. "He gave a face to a protest vote by the lawsuits by not debating her. I think he created, through his campaign style, more momentum for her campaign than he wanted."

In addition, Tuesday's exceedingly low turnout raises issues about voter enthusiasm. Statewide turnout appeared to be a hair below 10 percent.

"I think there is a lack of enthusiasm," Miringoff said of the turnout. "I think Cuomo needs to become more engaged with the electorate. Cuomo has to find a connection. The message has to come through better."

Some of the issues raised in the primary will hover around Cuomo as he moves forward to face Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, in the November election. Like Teachout, Astorino has criticized Cuomo for supporting the Common Core academic standards, his shuttering of a corruption commission and his hard-nosed governing style.

But Astorino won't be able to woo Teachout liberals, who opposed Cuomo's business-friendly tax policies and inaction on natural gas drilling.

Further, the governor enjoys huge advantages in fundraising and Democrats hold a better than 2-to-1 enrollment advantage over Republicans. Cuomo already has begun to use core Democratic issues, such as abortion rights and gun control, to try to paint Astorino as an "ultraconservative."

"There is a potential for making it closer than it would have been, but I wouldn't say this is a governor in political jeopardy," Miringoff said.

Astorino does have a better starting point than Teachout. He's held public office and Republicans can count on at least 30 percent of the vote in November. He can corral some anti-Cuomo voters, but stitching together a winning plurality is a tough task, analysts said.

"I don't see where the primary gives Astorino a new approach," said Gerald Benjamin, an associate vice president at the State University of New York at New Paltz and longtime state political analyst.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins is trying to capitalize on Teachout's showing, telling disaffected liberals Wednesday to support him in November.

With little money and name recognition, Teachout might have scored the best showing by a challenger in a primary against a sitting governor. Teachout had 34.2 percent of the vote with 99 percent of districts reporting. Lt. Gov. Mary Anne Krupsak earned 33.7 percent against Gov. Hugh Carey in 1978, the previous record.

Teachout won almost all of eastern New York, from Putnam County to the Canadian border -- taking 31 of the state's 62 counties, though no large population centers. Cuomo won New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and western New York.

With Cuomo expected to win, some Democrats were free to cast a protest vote of sorts by supporting Teachout -- even if many of them did it for disparate reasons, analysts said.

"All the disaffected people who had a grievance needed a focal point and she became it," said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, a former state assemblyman from Nassau County who now lobbies. "It was a coalition of unhappy people. I don't think it's a movement."

With Michael Gormley

State & Region