On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo beat back a left-wing primary challenge and won renomination, defeating Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo's running mate, former US Representative Kathy Hochul, also defeated her challenger, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, in the lieutenant governor's race.
Though votes are still being counted, Cuomo's total at press time hovered around 60 percent, with Hochul posting a similar margin in her race. That's closer than anyone would have expected four months ago — and, according to an analysis by Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight, it's a total that places Cuomo around the bottom 10 percent of incumbent governors running for reelection in recent years. Teachout and Wu posted this margin despite raising little money and, as Cuomo himself pointed out, having "no institutional liberal support."
The primary challenges materialized because, though Cuomo had won major progressive victories by enacting same-sex marriage and strict gun control laws, some progressive activists were disappointed with his record on economic issues. "He's adopted the philosophical and political posture that the problem with government is overtaxing and overspending," former assemblyman Richard Brodsky told me in May. "How is that different from a Tea Party conservative?"
At first, it looked like opposition to Cuomo from the left might lead to a third-party challenge. In May, Teachout, a former staffer for Howard Dean's presidential campaign, who's long been active on money in politics issues, announced that she'd seek the nomination of the progressive Working Families Party. But in the end, after a last-minute deal between the governor and the party's leadership, the WFP endorsed Cuomo.
Soon afterward, Teachout announced that rather than give up, she'd challenge Cuomo in the Democratic primary. And for her running mate, she enlisted Wu, known for his writing on telecom issues and particularly for coining the term "net neutrality." Wu saw an opening because Kathy Hochul, Cuomo's new running mate, held conservative positions on immigration and other issues.
Cuomo's strategy was to publicly ignore Teachout and Wu, while ensuring that liberal interest groups remained united around him. Cuomo emphasized his challengers' lack of "institutional liberal support" in a recent interview with the Washington Post's Phil Rucker — pointing out that the key unions and major progressive groups were backing him. News of a federal investigation related to Cuomo's handling of a public corruption commission didn't prove to be a game-changer either.
Yet there was an undercurrent of bitterness to the race. Cuomo's campaign challenged Teachout's residency in an unsuccessful attempt to get her disqualified from the ballot. When the candidates crossed paths during a Labor Day parade, Cuomo — intentionally or not — didn't acknowledge Teachout's presence. And, finally, as the election results became clear Tuesday night, several reporters tweeted that Teachout couldn't call Cuomo to concede — because the governor's campaign wouldn't give out his phone number.
Though few people thought Teachout had a chance of winning, some liberals hoped that Wu might manage to edge out a victory in the lieutenant governor's race. These hopes were fed by the New York Times' endorsement of Wu and a report by the New York Post's Fred Dicker that Cuomo's campaign was evaluating contingencies in case Wu won. Wu also hoped to mobilize Asian-Americans around his campaign. In the end, though, he won a similar amount of votes as Teachout.
For a politician reputed to be very conscious of his victory margins, Cuomo's vote totals are nothing to brag about. But the result is that Cuomo moves on to what's expected to be an easy general election race against Republican nominee Rob Astorino — and, likely, to four more years as New York's governor.