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Gov. Andrew Cuomo overcame a primary challenge from activist and actress Cynthia Nixon on Thursday, thwarting her attempt to become the latest insurgent liberal to knock off an establishment Democrat.
Cuomo, who always led in the polls and outspent his rival more than 8 to 1, seldom mentioned Nixon by name during an often-nasty campaign, instead touting his experience, achievements in two terms as governor and his work to push back against President Donald Trump.
“You cannot be a progressive if you cannot deliver progress. And a New York progressive is not just a dreamer, but we are doers,” Cuomo said at a campaign rally the night before the vote. “We make things happen.”
With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans more than 2 to 1 in New York, Cuomo becomes the automatic front-runner in November’s matchup against Republican Marc Molinaro and independent Mayor Stephanie Miner.
Nixon, a longtime education activist and actress best known for her Emmy-winning role as lawyer Miranda Hobbes on HBO’s Sex and the City, was counting on a boost from liberals looking to oust establishment politicians. She called herself a democratic socialist and pointed to recent congressional primary victories by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley as evidence that underdog challengers can defy the odds.
But Cuomo secured key endorsements from Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — as well as musician Nicki Minaj — and influential groups such as the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood. And despite Nixon’s efforts, polls showed several key Democratic voting blocs remained loyal to the incumbent, including African-Americans, young voters and women.
The 60-year-old governor spent much of the race touting his own liberal accomplishments such as same-sex marriage, gun control and paid family leave. And he increasingly made the race about pushing back against the policies of Trump and other Republicans in Washington. At the same time, he dismissed Nixon as a naive dilettante and mocked her work as an actress.
“If it was all about name recognition,” he said earlier this year, “then I’m hoping Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race.”
Despite the rhetoric, Cuomo took Nixon seriously, spending $8.5 million, largely on ads, in the final weeks of the campaign to answer her repeated attacks that the governor has not invested enough in New York City’s beleaguered subway system and failed to deliver on upstate economic development promises.
There were indications that the 52-year-old Nixon’s aggressive campaign actually pushed the incumbent governor to the left on several issues, including legalizing marijuana and addressing crumbling public housing in New York City.
While he may have won, Cuomo, a former U.S. housing secretary and son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, did not escape the primary unscathed.
Two of his former top aides were convicted this year on corruption charges related to his signature economic development programs, giving ample ammunition to Nixon — as well as his general election opponents.
Cuomo himself snuffed out speculation that he might run for president in 2020, pledging in his only debate with Nixon that he would serve a full four-year term if re-elected this year.
And then there were Cuomo’s self-inflicted wounds in the waning days of the campaign.
He was mocked for saying America “was never that great” during remarks criticizing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
He invited Clinton to a celebratory opening of the final span of the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson — only to keep the bridge closed after engineers warned that pieces from the old, largely disassembled Tappan Zee Bridge could hit the new structure.
Cuomo claimed to have no knowledge of a Democratic Party mailer that questioned Nixon’s support for Jewish people — despite Cuomo’s control of the party and a recent $2.5 million contribution to its campaign operations. Cuomo’s spokeswoman later acknowledged that two former aides volunteering on the campaign were behind the piece.
Nixon, who is raising two of her children in the Jewish faith, demanded an apology that never came.
Nixon now must decide whether she wants to run on the November ballot as a candidate for the third-party Working Families Party, thanks to a New York state law that allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines. Early in the campaign, Nixon said she would stand aside if she lost the Democratic primary, but it remains to be seen whether the party can remove her name from the ballot.
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