On every list of potential Democratic heirs to President Barack Obama in 2016, one inevitably finds the name of Andrew Cuomo right up there with those of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.
The governor of New York comes from the right state, has the right pedigree — his father is the still-loved former three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo —and national connections from his days as former President Bill Clinton’s secretary of housing and urban development. And, at 55, he is at least a decade younger than either Vice President Biden or former Secretary of State Clinton.
But like any governor who considers a bid for the presidency three years down the line, Cuomo has to first deal with re-election. Although few doubt he will be re-elected in a state that is increasingly Democratic and where Republicans appear to be in shambles, Cuomo has been running into some turbulent political waters of late.
Many pundits and politicians in the Empire State now believe that if his downswing continues, Cuomo may well emerge from 2014 with a closer-than-expected re-election, and thus go in 2016 severely wounded.
A Sienna Poll in March showed Cuomo’s approval rating among likely voters statewide at 64 percent — impressive, but significantly down from December, when the same survey had him at 72 percent. Similar drops in his approval were evident in the recent Marist Poll, falling to 59 percent, from 77 percent four months ago.
“Both polls showed the most significant drop in Cuomo’s approval among upstate voters,” observed historian David Pietrusza, author of three best-selling books on presidential elections, who knows all things New York.
“That’s most likely due to his strong-arming the state Legislature into approving tough gun-control legislation, his support for gay marriage, and his delay in approving fracking in the Southern Tier, which is hard-hit economically and adjacent to Pennsylvania,” Pietrusza said.
George Marlin, former head of the New York Port Authority and 1993 Conservative Party nominee for mayor of New York, noted that Cuomo’s first budget in 2011 ended a $10 billion operating deficit without raising taxes.
But Cuomo's current budget contains “overly optimistic revenue estimates, one-shot revenues, and back-door borrowing,” Marlin told the Long Island Business News. Specifically, the Cuomo budget extends what was supposed to be a temporary assessment on electricity, water, and gas utilities, and also extends a ban on those earning over $10 million a year from deducting a portion of their itemized charitable donations.
In Marlin's words, the budget “reads like a Mario Cuomo budget of yesteryear.”
Surprisingly, given the GOP's recent history of internecine warfare and defeats in what seemed winnable races in the state, New York Republicans have a bench of talent to credibly challenge the incumbent.
Three young contenders stand out as viable challengers to Cuomo: Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, 45, former commentator on Catholic Radio who ousted a veteran incumbent in 2010; Greg Edwards, 42, Chautauqua County executive, who made a good impression as Republican-Conservative Party nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010; and state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, 32, daughter of Cuban-Greek immigrants, who got high marks recently for speeches at CPAC in Washington and the Conservative Party conclave in Albany.
The problem with all three is that their youth and potential means they could well forgo an uphill battle against Cuomo next year and wait until 2018 or later, in a potentially better year for GOP.
But for now, the issues and the political climate in New York offer promise to some brave Republican — and some potential embarrassment for Andrew Cuomo.
John Gizzi is the former political editor for Human Events, working for the conservative weekly from 1979 to 2013. Gizzi is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence, was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002, and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows.
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