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Sources: Cuomo, aides discussed possibility of White House run

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on May 12.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on May 12. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this fall talked with some of his top political advisers about whether to consider a run for the White House if former Vice President Joseph Biden dropped out of the race, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The discussions, which predated former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying he was considering a run, began after Biden, Cuomo’s ally and friend, appeared to fade in the Democratic primary debates and on the campaign trail this fall, the sources said. National media reports had described Biden as tired after the June debate and fatigued after the September debate. The commentary at the time revived concerns about whether Biden, who turns 77 on Wednesday, would be up to the task of defeating Republican President Donald Trump.

That led to discussions among Cuomo and his top former and current advisers, the sources said.

Cuomo, through a spokesman, denied there were any discussions about considering a run. “That’s totally untrue; Biden isn’t faltering and he will not falter,” said Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi.

But one source, who has been advising presidential candidates this year and is familiar with Cuomo’s thinking, said the discussions were not about “ ‘Hey, you could.’ It was, ‘This is an opportunity’ … People in the party are beginning to wonder if we have the right candidate who can run against Donald Trump.”

Cuomo “is a person who plays the game in his mind; not so much ‘what if,’ but ‘what are the opportunities? Can we be ready, should we be ready?’ ” the source said. “There is a sense there is room for another candidate. Were Joe Biden not in this race, I think whether the governor wants it or not, people are going to be talking about him.”

The other source, who spoke directly with Cuomo’s inner circle, said the substance of the “handful of discussions” this fall was: “What could be a catalyst for entry? And what would be the lane or path?”

Soon after those discussions, Biden bounced back with a strong closing in the Oct. 15 debate and he remained a front-runner in the national polls. The sources said Biden’s resurgence quelled any plan for Cuomo to enter the race — at least for now.

Cuomo repeatedly has said publicly that he is not interested in running for president. “I think on paper I can understand why people would make that speculation,” Cuomo said Wednesday in a radio interview. “Everything they’re talking about on the national scale, we have done here in New York … We actually did it with results, and we proved it can be done … I’m happy with this job.”

This month, Bloomberg, a centrist like Biden and a former Republican, said he is considering an entry to the race as some Democratic leaders fear the current field of mostly progressive candidates might be ill-suited to beat Trump. Then, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced a run.

The small, close group that discussed Cuomo’s possible run remains in place and will meet if opportunities present themselves, but not on a regular basis, the two sources said.

A late entry by anyone would be difficult now. Ten Democrats will face off in the Wednesday debate. They and several other candidates also have established campaign structures, raised money, campaigned in key states and most of them appeared in the previous four televised debates.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier this month told Bloomberg News that she was concerned the current field of Democratic candidates was focusing too much on progressive policies, such as "Medicare for All," to form a solid platform to beat Trump. Biden has called for a more moderate health care plan, building on the existing Affordable Care Act.

In April, Cuomo all but endorsed Biden, who helped secure federal funds for New York City airports.

"I think [Biden] is going to do very, very well," Cuomo told MSNBC. “He'll serve the Democratic Party very well, and I think he'll serve the nation very well after that."

In the following months, however, Cuomo’s support for Biden became more muted. “I have not made an endorsement yet,” Cuomo told reporters in July. “I believe [Biden] is the strongest candidate against Trump. I know him personally; he’s been a great help to the state of New York as you know. But I have not made a political endorsement yet.”

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