Democratic Insurgents Topple 6 New York Senate Incumbents

Democratic Insurgents Topple 6 New York Senate Incumbents

Sept. 13 primary results: New York

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took a decisive step toward a third term on Thursday, quelling a liberal rebellion by turning aside the insurgent challenge of Cynthia Nixon to claim the Democratic nomination in New York.

Mr. Cuomo had marshaled the support of nearly all of the state and countrys most powerful Democratic brokers — elected officials, party leaders, labor unions and wealthy real estate interests — to defeat Ms. Nixon, beating her by 30 percentage points.

The race cemented both Mr. Cuomos standing as an unmatched force in New York politics and a merciless tactician with little regard for diplomacy.

New York primary: Gov. Andrew Cuomo wins but his 2020 presidential aspirations are dead.

Ms. Nixon had cast her first-time candidacy as a fight for the direction of the Democratic Party in New York and beyond, offering a pure brand of liberalism against Mr. Cuomos more triangulating pragmatism, a style defined less by ideology and more by what he deemed possible.

Labor unions endorsed Cuomo because he was a governor who has delivered for them on concrete priorities, even if he is actually less progressive than they would ideally prefer. National organizations like Emilys List that would back a woman who supports abortion rights in an open race didnt back insurgent Nixon against an incumbent. Nearly every major reliable interest group lined up behind Cuomo, and elected officials likewise fell in line. Even someone like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whos been at open war with Cuomo on a number of fronts, didnt endorse Nixon.

In the end, the governors record of achievements — on gun control, gay marriage, the minimum wage, paid-family leave and more — and his gargantuan fund-raising advantage spoke louder than Ms. Nixons objections over legislation he sidelined in the byzantine corridors of Albanys capital.

Indeed, their stated views on economic policy issues are quite progressive. The difference is that while many white progressives have an antagonistic relationship with the Democratic Party as an institution, African-American and Latino Democrats are much more likely to think of themselves as party regulars. For example, Bernie Sanders had a 70 percent approval rating among African Americans as of a few months ago, even though he didnt garner anywhere near that support with black voters in 2016.

The race was called about 30 minutes after the polls closed, with Mr. Cuomo watching the results roll in over dinner with senior staff at the Governors Mansion in Albany. Mr. Cuomo never appeared publicly after the polls closed on Thursday, letting the results speak for themselves.

Ms. Nixon called to offer Mr. Cuomo a private concession before a fiery speech before her supporters in Brooklyn, where she and her two insurgent allies for statewide office, Zephyr Teachout and Jumaane Williams, had gathered. All three lost.

This kind of top-down machine operates as a flywheel — more people endorsing the incumbent causes other people to endorse him. The reasons for this are practical: Even if she had won, Nixon wouldnt have been in a position to punish those who endorsed Cuomo — there were too many of them, and she was in most cases ideologically committed to their causes — whereas Cuomo really would be in a position to retaliate against people who had crossed him.

In the attorney generals race, Letitia James, the New York City public advocate and Mr. Cuomos choice, won the Democratic nomination in a four-way race, with Ms. Teachout finishing second. Should Ms. James prevail in November, she would become the first black woman to ever hold statewide office in New York. In the lieutenant governors race, Kathy Hochul, Mr. Cuomos running mate, fended off a challenge from Mr. Williams, a New York City councilman, winning by the narrowest margin of the three.

The lone bright spot for liberal insurgents came down ballot, where Democratic challengers in State Senate contests had knocked off six of the eight members of a group of rogue Democrats who had broken with the party in recent years to form a coalition with Republicans in Albany.

Nixon had on her side, by contrast, the reality that a lot of people really hate Andrew Cuomo. And she challenged him in a year when insurgent progressives, particularly women, have performed particularly well in House primaries. But that wasnt nearly enough for her to beat him. The fact that Cuomo had to fight at all shows pretty clearly how hopeless hed be in a national primary, where hed lack any of his advantages.

Mr. Cuomos victory ensures that no Democratic governor or senator in America lost a party primary in 2018, a sign of how steep a climb Ms. Nixon, an actress and activist, had faced, even before the governors campaign unloaded a sum close to $25 million to blanket the contest in a blizzard of television ads and glossy mailers.

When others were underestimating us, he did not, Ms. Nixon said in her concession speech. And he spent accordingly.

The demographic key to Cuomos victory is a pattern weve seen before when left-wing insurgents fall short: He received overwhelming support among African-American and Latino voters. These same groups also rejected Zephyr Teachouts campaign for attorney general, backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, and, generally speaking, do not seem impressed by white outsider/reformer candidates of any kind.

In November, Mr. Cuomo, 60, will seek to match the three terms that his father, Mario M. Cuomo, achieved as governor. He has forcefully denied any presidential ambitions of his own, saying the only way he would not serve through 2022 would be death.

It was a subtle, well-executed game — subtle enough to not be understood by most voters in New Yorks Democratic primaries — but in retrospect, it was too clever by half. The mood among national Democrats has swung substantially to the left over the past five years, with Barack Obama recently endorsing ideas like Medicare-for-all and employee representation on corporate boards.

Mr. Cuomo himself had sought to mostly ignore Ms. Nixon in recent months, focusing repeatedly on President Trump. His campaign, meanwhile, methodically pushed to undermine Ms. Nixons credibility in often-caustic terms, tapping into the concerns of New York Democrats that an experienced governor is needed while a hostile Republican occupies the White House.

Cuomos opponent was best known as the co-star of (an admittedly wonderful) television show thats been off the air for nearly 15 years. Befitting such a mismatched pairing, Cuomo also crushed Nixon in fundraising, outspending her about 20-1, and called in an unusual endorsement from the Democratic National Committee along with the support of the entire state party apparatus.

After a six-month slog versus Ms. Nixon, Mr. Cuomo now faces a less than 60-day sprint of a general election against the Republican, Marcus J. Molinaro, the affable Dutchess County executive who was once the youngest mayor in the nation. He, like Ms. Nixon, is expected to be drastically outspent by Mr. Cuomo. And in a heavily Democratic state in what most strategists predict will be a Democratic year, Mr. Molinaros bid is not seen as a top-tier race for Republicans nationally.

In other words, Cuomos success with voters of color isnt particularly a sign of extraordinary infatuation with him personally or his brand of politics. Rather, he benefits from his standing as the establishment candidate — the one who is known, the one who is proven, and the one who has all the endorsements.

The final margin in the primary belied the ferocity of the campaign, which began with the charge that Ms. Nixon was an unqualified lesbian by a top surrogate for Mr. Cuomo and ended with a mailer accusing her of silence on anti-Semitism. Mr. Cuomo called it inappropriate but did not apologize.

Thats a powerful tool for re-securing nomination once youre already in office and a powerful reason why its so rare for incumbents to lose, but unless youre an overwhelming frontrunner — which Cuomo certainly isnt — it doesnt help you win a presidential nomination.

He won ugly, said Bradley Tusk, who served as campaign manager for former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

But thats not what was happening here. Cuomo is a two-term incumbent governor who served four years as attorney general before that, served in Bill Clintons Cabinet, and is the son of a man who served 20 years in statewide office from the mid-1970s to the mid-90s.

Even before the polls had closed, there were worried whispers from New York City to Albany of those who had crossed him readying for a coming retribution tour.

[Make sense of the people, issues and ideas shaping the 2018 elections with our new politics newsletter.]

A 30-point margin of victory (as of press time) in a primary would be extremely impressive for a professional politician running in a contested open primary against another political pro.

When Ms. Nixon burst onto the political stage in March, it was as if she had unleashed the repressed id of New York progressives long frustrated with Mr. Cuomos transactional ways. But for many voters, Ms. Nixon never successfully presented enough evidence that she was prepared to be governor, other than offering what she was not: an Albany insider or Mr. Cuomo.

If you run an outsider campaign, you have to run a campaign like Trump did, saying Things are so bad that youve got nothing to lose, so who cares that I dont have experience, Mr. Tusk said. In this case, the guy with experience gets a lot done.

Somewhat ironically, it was actually Cuomos presidential aspirations that, in retrospect, have ended up dooming his presidential aspirations.

Still, in losing, Ms. Nixon arguably made as much of a policy impact on New York as some elected officials have: Mr. Cuomo embraced a series of liberal ideas soon after her entry, including moving toward legalizing marijuana, extending voting rights to parolees and brokering a deal to dissolve the Independent Democratic Conference, the group of Democratic state senators who had aligned with Republicans in Albany.

Among the six I.D.C. members who lost primaries on Thursday was their leader, State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein in the Bronx, who was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi, the granddaughter of Mario Biaggi, a former congressman.

While Ms. Nixon scored a record number of small donors for a New York race, she struggled to collect larger donations, pulling in a total of just under $2.5 million with about 10 days left in the race.

That is roughly how much Mr. Cuomo raised in a single day, at his birthday fund-raiser last December.

Turnout in 2018 was two and a half times larger than in 2014, even as Mr. Cuomo carried the state by nearly the same margin. It was a sure sign of his grip on the state that he could earn commanding victories in years with both large and small turnouts.

Mr. Cuomo was a no-show at the victory gala that his state party was throwing in Manhattan, where attendees snacked on baked oysters, pita, hummus and pigs in blankets amid chants of four more years! (One rogue supporter shouted 2020!)

Mr. Cuomo seemed to stumble across the finish line in the final days of this race, dogged by questions of the timing of a bridge opening and the mailer that incorrectly sought to link Ms. Nixon to anti-Semitism.

Mr. Molinaro has used both issues to hammer Mr. Cuomo in some of the opening salvos of the fall campaign.

For now, Ms. Nixon is still technically on the November ballot as the Working Families Party nominee. She must decide whether to withdraw, and if so, the party, which spent much of the year at war with Mr. Cuomo, must decide whether to grant its line to the incumbent governor. Ms. Nixon declined to discuss her plans in a radio interview on Tuesday.

New York voters on Thursday cast ballots in the second installment of the states primaries ahead of the general election in November, selecting candidates for state and local races. Here are the results:

Democratic incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily beat back a primary challenge from the actress and activist Cynthia Nixon on Thursday with 65.6% percent of the vote. During the campaign, Cuomo seldom mentioned Nixon by name, instead touting his experience, achievements in two terms as governor and his work to push back against President Donald Trump.

FILE: New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, left, speaks during a Democratic primary debate in Hempstead, N.Y., and Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in New York.  (AP)

There were indications that the former "Sex and the City" actress pushed the incumbent governor to the left on several issues, including legalizing marijuana and addressing crumbling public housing in New York City.

FILE: New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, center, speaks to members of the media outside a polling station after voting in the primary.  (AP)

With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans more than 2 to 1 in New York, Cuomo becomes the automatic front-runner in Novembers matchup with Republican Marc Molinaro, who secured the GOP nomination uncontested. 

GOP Primary – Marc Molinaro            Uncontested  

Dem Primary – Andrew M. Cuomo     Votes 975,552     Vote Percentage: 65.6%

In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, incumbent and Cuomo running mate Kathy Hochul defeated challenger Jumaane Williams, a New York City councilman who had promised if elected to serve as a check on Cuomo.

Candidate for Lt. Governor Jumaane Williams delivers his concession speech at the Working Families Party primary night party.  (AP)

Hochul, a former congresswoman from Buffalo, spent much of the campaign touting her role in the Cuomo administration. Cuomo first picked her as his running mate in the 2014 election. Hochul will face GOP challenger Julie Killian in November. 

Dem Primary – Kathy Hochul     Votes: 731,459     Vote Percentage: 53.3%

Cuomos pick for attorney general, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, won a four-way Democratic primary with more than 40 percent of the vote. James told her supporters in Brooklyn on Thursday that President Donald Trump cant go a day without dividing us and that theyre in the middle of a fight to save our democracy.

James would be the first black woman to hold statewide elected office in New York if she prevails in the general election. She was heavily endorsed by Cuomo and several influential unions and will be heavily favored in the November general election.  

The Republican candidate is Keith Wofford, a little-known Buffalo native whos worked as a lawyer in private practice for two decades. Wofford attacked James as a career politician who will uphold the status-quo.

Wofford has pitched himself as an independent outsider who will do whats in the states best interests and an alternative to the political establishment.

Dem Primary – Letitia James        Votes: 578,412     Vote Percentage: 40.6%

Democratic socialist and first-time candidate Julia Salazar, 27, handily defeated eight-term incumbent Sen. Martin Dilan in New Yorks 18th District with 59 percent of the vote, joining the ranks of progressive insurgents nationwide who have knocked out mainstream Democrats.

Julia Salazar, left, answers questions during an interview after winning the Democratic primary over Martin Dilan in New Yorks 18th State Senate district race.  (AP)

Salazar faced criticism during her campaign for saying she was a poor immigrant from Colombia who struggled financially growing up when she was born into a wealthy family in Florida. She was also scrutinized for her apparent religious conversion while at Columbia University from an anti-abortion Christian Republican to a hard-left Jewish Democrat.

District 18: Dem Primary – Julia Salazar    Votes: 20,603     Vote Percentage: 59.0%

                     GOP Primary – No candidate 

Salazars victory came on a night when primary voters also took their revenge on a splinter group of Democratic state senators who broke with the party to join a group that supported Republican control of the chamber. Despite a political deal earlier this year to end the schism, six of the eight members of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference were ousted in party primaries Thursday.

Among those losing their races was Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, the former IDC leader and current No. 2 in the state Senate. Klein lost to Alessandra Biaggi, an attorney who has worked for Cuomos and Hillary Clintons campaigns.

But voters also decided to support another breakaway Democrat, Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder. Felder was not an IDC member but also voted with the Republicans, letting them remain in control even though Democrats outnumbered them in the Senate by one seat. Felder beat challenger Blake Morris in the Democratic primary.

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