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Cuomo's campaign faces flagging fervor from backers

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks on Wednesday,

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Albany. Photo Credit: AP/Mike Groll

ALBANY -- Some Democrats say there's an "enthusiasm gap" in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's re-election bid, attributable to his fights with the political left and his large lead in the polls, which has sapped a sense of urgency.

Cuomo has at least a 20-point lead over Republican candidate Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, in most polls and is the overwhelming favorite. None suggest an upset is in the making because Cuomo isn't facing a strong challenge from the left and he has a large lead over Astorino -- who isn't likely to draw liberals because his policies are anathema to them. But some Democrats note signs of disaffection among the Democratic rank-and-file:

Cuomo's job-approval ratings are at an all-time low, with 56 percent of voters saying he's doing a fair or poor job. Even among Democrats, 46 percent said the governor is doing a fair or poor job.

Only 10 percent of Democrats showed up for the party primary in September, an extremely low number even for a primary. Cuomo won 62 percent against an unknown, underfunded challenger, Fordham University Professor Zephyr Teachout, but garnered just 361,380 total votes -- far fewer than gubernatorial primary winners in 2006, 2002 and even 1998. In 1998, Peter Vallone Sr. got more votes, 397,486, in a four-way primary than Cuomo received in a two-way race this year.

The Green Party candidate this year is polling at an all-time high, with the bulk of his support coming from Democrats. "There are people on the left who are disaffected, no question," said Steve Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena College poll.

That said, there are no signs Cuomo's re-election is in danger, he added. Liberals unhappy with the governor are likely to either sit out the gubernatorial election or cast a protest vote for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, rather than back Astorino, who is probably too conservative for their liking.

Privately, some Democrats said Cuomo has "not worked his base," as he's tried to govern from the middle, enacting business tax cuts that Republicans favor.

Cuomo says New York has a wide political spectrum, that he's enacted policies that the majority of people support and that it should be no surprise that he gets criticized from the left or right -- complaints from the fringes, as he sees it.

Representing everyone"The part of the challenge as governor of the state is you represent everyone," Cuomo said at a campaign stop in the Albany suburbs this week. "It's hard when you have the spectrum that we have, but it's one of the challenges. But we represent everyone and I think you see that in my political support."

Cuomo has not campaigned much this year, instead taking a "Rose Garden" approach in which the incumbent tries to portray himself as busy governing and above the campaign.

"Even at events we go to, we have to push to get people there," said one leading Democrat who asked not to be named so as to not offend Cuomo. "Four years ago, the difference was palpable. Now, when we call, people are asking: 'Do we really have to go?' "

"It's not completely dead. But the sense is, nobody is really excited," said Kris LaGrange, a labor organizer who works with a number of unions.

"A lot of our focus has been on the other races, the congressional races," said Roger Clayman, executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor, an AFL-CIO affiliate. He pointed out that because the AFL-CIO declined to make an endorsement in the gubernatorial race, "we haven't gotten engaged" in the contest.

Labor has split over Cuomo. Public-employee unions have been highly critical, while trade unions have been supportive.

Other liberal groups and some Democrats have been upset with Cuomo for not doing more to help the party take over the politically split state Senate -- a key to enacting "progressive" legislation, they said.

The labor-backed Working Families Party came close to endorsing Teachout until Cuomo promised to help with the Senate effort. Teachout challenged the governor in the Democratic primary, getting 34 percent of the vote and winning 31 upstate counties.

Anger over drillingBesides the Senate and organized labor issues, Cuomo has angered some on the left with his lack of action on natural-gas drilling upstate, Democrats and analysts have said. Yet some Democrats credit him for stalling a decision on the issue, saying it's effectively blocked development.

Astorino has contended that "Andrew Cuomo has no real base of support" and that the race is changing.

Hawkins is trying to lure disaffected liberals. He said he's met with various political clubs downstate and talked with rank-and-file union members. Hawkins, a Syracuse resident who works loading UPS trucks, said some Democrats approach him.

"I'm hearing a lot from people who voted for Zephyr Teachout and Randy Credico," he said, referring to the comedian who also ran in the Democratic primary. "They were even saying this before the primary: Teachout and Credico now, Hawkins later."

Cuomo basically didn't campaign in the primary and didn't debate Teachout. He waited until the first Saturday in October to hold his first statewide campaign tour. Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party has taken up the slack by bankrolling ads attacking Astorino as an "ultraconservative."

If Cuomo's lead were smaller, the tenor might be different, said Rachel Lavine, president of the Progressive Democratic Caucus. She is sticking with Cuomo even though she wishes the governor had taken stronger action on the Senate.

"They are not worried," Lavine said of Cuomo's campaign regarding support from the rank-and-file. "If they were, they would be reaching out to people."

With Michael Gormley

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