After Bitter Democratic Primary Battle, New York Governor Defeats Cynthia Nixon
By Kenneth Lovett
After a bitter six-month battle, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily beat back a primary challenge from his left flank from actress Cynthia Nixon.
The Associated Press called the race for Cuomo at 9:30 p.m. EDT, a half hour after polls closed. Cuomo had an early 65.9 percent to 34.1 percent lead with about a quarter of the vote counted.
For the governor, who is seeking a third term, it was his toughest electoral battle since taking office as it became another battle in New York and nationally between the energized progressive wing of the Democratic Party and establishment Democrats like Cuomo.
Cuomo will now go on to face Republican Marc Molinaro in a race some predict will be less difficult given the state's heavy Democratic enrollment.
"The arrows are pointing in the right direction," Cuomo told reporters after voting at his Westchester County polling station. "I want to keep that going. And I want to keep up the battle against these Washington policies that will erode the fundamental foundation of what we're about."
The primary battle with Nixon was one of several in New York that pitted establishment Democrats against insurgents from the left-wing of the party.
While even those close to her were preparing for a big loss to Cuomo, Nixon before the polls closed predicted the progressive movement that has sparked major upsets nationally and in New York, including in Queens where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated longtime Rep. Joseph Crowley, will roll on.
"This is not just a moment in time," Nixon said Thursday morning on upstate public radio's "The Capitol Pressroom." "I think this is a movement and I think it is a movement to make sure that the Democratic Party is not just a kinder gentler, more diverse version of the Republican Party. People don't show up when we're not clear about who we are and what we fight for."
"This is a movement because Donald Trump is doing so much harm to our country and our values," she added. "But one of the good things that he has inadvertently done is he has gotten the progress movement on the move and people are getting involved in ways they never have before.
"It's not the end, it really is the beginning."
Four years ago, Cuomo barely acknowledged his primary challenge from underfunded and little-known Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout, who was in a four-way primary for attorney general Thursday night.
But this year, with the progressive wing of the Democratic party energized against President Trump and a string of upsets nationally and in New York _ particularly in Queens where Democratic socialist Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley, Cuomo took no chances.
He dipped into his massive fundraising account, spending more than $16 million and blanketing the airways with ads.
Nixon couldn't compete. She raised roughly $2.5 million, mostly through small donations. Without the money to launch a statewide ad campaign, she relied heavily on digital and social media. She also benefited from huge amounts of free media due to her celebrity.
Nixon continuously hammered Cuomo as a corporate Democrat who governs more like a Republican. She repeatedly called him a liar and corrupt and repeatedly tied him to two top aides and other associates who were found guilty of federal corruption charges. Cuomo was never implicated in the cases.
She also accused him of emboldening the Republicans in the state Senate, which blocked key progressive legislation.
His campaign stumbled in the home stretch when the state Democratic Party he controls sent out a mailer accusing Nixon of being soft on anti-Semitism. Cuomo disavowed the flier, but it was eventually tied to a former aide to the governor.
But it wasn't enough to cut into the polls that Nixon claimed didn't take into account the growing number of young and newly registered Democrats energized against Trump.
Nixon had stumbles of her own. The co-star of "Sex and the City" said she believed upstate began at Ithaca, a city her campaign repeatedly misspelled in advance of a visit. She also was also mocked later in the campaign when a reporter filmed her ordering a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese, red onions, tomatoes, capers and lox.
"Don't yuck my yum," she told reporters
Cuomo and his camp continually highlighted her inexperience in government, mocking her for simply being an actress who was good at reciting her lines. At the same time, they sought to play up Cuomo's progressive record that led to the legalization of gay marriage, passage of a tough gun control law, enactment of a $15 minimum wage and creation of a statewide paid family leave program.
Unlike four years ago when he ran against Teachout, Cuomo healed the rifts with most public sector unions and took away a key upstate leftist issue that followed him around in 2014 by banning a controversial gas drilling practice known as hydrofracking in the state's southern tier.
He also co-opted different issues pushed by Nixon, including now supporting the idea of legalizing marijuana after only a year ago calling it a "gateway drug." Nixon aides have taken to calling such shifts "the Cynthia effect."
Still, other than their one debate, Cuomo virtually ignored Nixon publicly for much of the campaign, preferring to take on President Trump, who is wildly unpopular in his home state of New York.
A confident Cuomo told reporters before the polls closed that he wants to continue a "robust" agenda that includes major building projects like the rebuilding of LaGuardia and Kennedy airports and taking on the Trump administration.
"As governor I believe it's New York's obligation to stand up and lead and lead against a lot of these changes in Washington that are totally opposite of who we are as New Yorkers and what we believe," Cuomo said Thursday before the polls closed. "There is a divisiveness coming out of Washington that I think is cancerous to this nation."
Looking ahead to the general election, Cuomo made it clear he will continue to try and tie GOP gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro to President Trump, saying "the Republicans are all in lockstep now."
"They are all following President Trump and President Trump has carved out a very harsh agenda and a very anti-New York agenda, not just in values, but economically," Cuomo said.
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