ALBANY — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has two of the state’s most visible leaders — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — to help her effort to win New York’s primary on Tuesday. But some experts say the influence of these executives and their efforts to assist their longtime ally have diminished in an age of social media and voter anger at the status quo.
Cuomo appears to have been more useful for Clinton in recent weeks. On Thursday night, after Clinton’s debate in Brooklyn against rival candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, it was Cuomo who represented Clinton in the “spin room” afterward. That’s where top, trusted surrogates explain and support a candidate’s statements and try to persuade reporters that he or she won the debate.
“Gov. Cuomo has been a steadfast supporter from the beginning,” said Professor Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University’s Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency.
Cuomo shared the podium with Clinton at his recent union-backed rally to celebrate his legislative victory to phase in a $15 minimum wage for much of the state. Cuomo also used a WNYC radio interview on the state budget passage to attack Sanders.
Sanders had said that Sandy Hook massacre victims shouldn’t be able to sue gun manufacturers who made legal weapons used in the tragedy. Cuomo accused Sanders of taking the same position as former Republican President George W. Bush.
Last year, Cuomo’s immediate endorsement of Clinton’s campaign was particularly important to Clinton because some Democratic leaders believed Cuomo might run for president.
“There had been a degree of talk in the chattering class that he was hoping she would fail,” said Richard Brodsky, a political scientist at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. “He was shrewd. He made an early endorsement to put that to rest.”
Meanwhile, de Blasio was late in endorsing Clinton, Bose said. For months, while withholding his endorsement, the mayor had been trying to push Clinton left, requiring her to “clarify” her positions on income inequality and other progressive issues. Meanwhile, Sanders was plying the same progressive issues to capture voters under 35 years old and liberals, which are important groups in Democratic primary voting.
Last week, de Blasio took on Sanders after the Vermont senator, in answer to a reporter’s question, said Clinton may be unqualified to be president. De Blasio chided Sanders a bit.
“As his fellow progressive, this is not the right way to go,” de Blasio told CNN. “Hillary Clinton is eminently qualified to be president of the United States. By the way, Bernie Sanders is qualified to be president of the United States, too.”
Bose noted that Clinton passed on a recent offer by de Blasio to campaign for her outside New York.
“I think the Clinton campaign didn’t think he was necessarily helpful,” Bose said of de Blasio, who, like Cuomo, is mired some of his lowest poll numbers.
“There was a theory,” said Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman, “that if Bill de Blasio had maintained his first-year support among voters, that his late endorsement would mean more than an early endorsement. That never happened. The mayor’s technical political skills are subject to political criticism.”
A week ago, Clinton drew criticism for her role in de Blasio’s skit in the satirical Inner Circle event, which is put on by an organization of political reporters. The mayor and Clinton made a reference to “running on C.P. time,” a derogatory term for tardiness that stands for “colored people time,” even though Clinton’s punch line was that she was referring to “cautious politician time.” The skit, however, raised some criticism from her important African-American bloc. She quickly shifted blame onto de Blasio, telling Cosmopolitan: “It was Mayor de Blasio’s skit.”
It’s uncertain, however, just how strong traditional political “coattails” are these days.
“There’s less evidence of the coattails than we tend to talk about,” Bose said. “Endorsements are good for the party faithful, but I’m not sure they make a difference with undecided voters.” So Cuomo and de Blasio may have limited appeal to voters, but can be important in delivering a small core of reliable primary voters to Clinton, Bose said.
“Social media has changed the rules,” Brodsky said. Voters no longer need to rely on elected officials with bully pulpits to inform their vote; they are just clicks away from a research and entering their own political discussions.
Further, this is a year that many Democratic and Republican voters are angry at the status quo.
“There is a trend that establishment endorsements can hurt, with voters saying, ‘I don’t want any part of people who got us into this mess,’ ” Brodsky said. Spokesmen for Cuomo and de Blasio declined to comment.