New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bid for a cakewalk to a second term was spoiled as little-known challenger Zephyr Teachout received more than a third of the vote in the Democratic primary after calling him corrupt and beholden to big donors.
The governor beat Teachout 62.2 percent to 34.3 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, setting up a November showdown with Republican Rob Astorino. Teachout’s showing, the strongest by a challenger to an incumbent since New York began gubernatorial primaries in 1970, exposed a potential weakness for the son of former three-term governor Mario Cuomo.
“You’ve created a courageous and marvelous campaign waged against all odds against this massive and corrupt New York political machine,” Teachout told supporters in Manhattan last night as she conceded. “This campaign demonstrates the rise of a new force in New York politics and American politics.”
Cuomo’s hand-picked running mate for lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, fended off a challenge from Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor who was endorsed by the New York Times. Hochul received 59.9 percent of the votes to Wu’s 40.1 percent.
Cuomo, 56, was sailing through 2014 toward an inevitable election to a second term until federal prosecutors began probing his administration’s effort to stymie investigations by an anti-corruption committee he created. The scandal helped open the door for Teachout, a 42-year-old Fordham University law professor who’s made a career fighting graft. Teachout’s vote count is a blow to Cuomo, a potential candidate for national office.
“Teachout winning about 40 percent or more would send a signal about the strength of Cuomo as a potential presidential candidate,” Robert Shapiro, a political scientist at Columbia University, said before the polls closed. “A federal prosecutor actively investigating you could be brought up in whatever comes next.”
While primary losers typically endorse the winner to maintain party cohesion, Teachout didn’t take that opportunity today in an interview on WNBF, a radio station in Binghamton. As for what comes next, she said she plans to remain involved in politics.
“I’m going to be focused on taking back the Democratic senate,” she said.
In May, Cuomo struck a deal with the union-backed Working Families Party to get his name on its ballot line, and keep Teachout’s name off. In return, he agreed to push for full Democratic control of the upper chamber, which was run by a group of breakaway Democrats and Republicans the past two sessions.
While Teachout racked up endorsements from the state’s second-largest public-employees union and New York branches of the Sierra Club and the National Organization for Women, Cuomo expended little effort on the campaign. He held his first rally in New York City only a day before the election.
Cuomo has raised more than $35 million, compared with Teachout’s $541,000. The governor and the state Democratic Party he controls have spent more than $5 million on television advertisements attacking Astorino, the Westchester County executive. Cuomo left the targeting of Teachout to allies.
The “outcome is a testament to the progress we have made together over the last four years: restoring economic opportunity, replacing dysfunction with results, putting people before politics and re-establishing New York as a progressive leader for the nation,” Cuomo said in a statement e-mailed yesterday. He didn’t make the traditional victory appearance, in keeping with this strategy of virtually ignoring the primary.
Without the cash for advertisements of her own, Teachout struggled to get her name in front of voters. An Aug. 20 poll by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, found that 88 percent of New York registered voters didn’t know enough about her to form an opinion. That all changed yesterday.
Teachout won a swath of upstate from the northern New York City exurbs to the Canadian border. Cuomo won in the western part of the state, New York City and Long Island.
The region where Teachout was victorious includes the area around Albany where state workers are upset with Cuomo over wage-freezing contracts, said Bruce Gyory, a political and strategic consultant at Manatt, Phelps and Phillips in Albany.
“The progressive pulse among liberal voters in this region felt they had a free pass to send Cuomo a message without derailing the party, and they took it,” Gyory said. “There’s little chance that Astorino will be able to capitalize.”
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