#NYGov: It’s Not a Primary Challenge, But Governor Cuomo is Facing a Progressive Opponent

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), despite leading on important progressive issues like same-sex marriage and curbing gun violence, has long been reviled by the left for a host of betrayals ranging from slashing the state’s estate tax to actively helping Republicans take control the New York State Senate (yes, you read that correctly). Common wisdom holds that Mr. Cuomo has leaned right on economic issues to amass a giant war-chest and consolodate support among more conservative upstate New York on his way to a crushing re-election victory this fall; a great audition for a future presidential run. But it turns out Cuomo may have taken his support on the left for granted and may face a serious obstacle to a lopsided victory in November.

Mr. Cuomo is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, but New York is one of eight states that allow fusion voting, that is, a candidate can be endorsed by multiple parties and appear on multiple ballot lines. This has allowed the Working Families Party, a progressive, union-backed party, to gain significant influence by endorsing progressive Democratic candidates and effectively pushing the conversation to the left.

While courting upstate conservatives and slashing taxes, the governor apparently forgot about his left flank. As frustration on the left intensified, the WFP started to express significant concern with endorsing Mr. Cuomo in his bid for re-election. Armed with polls showing WFP candidates pulling anywhere from 6 to 24 percent of the vote, the WFP looked to extract concessions from the governor in exchange for their endorsement. But last night the New York Times reported that talks have broken down and the party is set to nominate its own candidate at tomorrow’s convention: Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout.

Teachout is not well known and will have significant challenges pulling away votes from the still-popular Cuomo. Unions have lined up behind the governor and his $33 million, sparking concerns that Cuomo could effectively crush the WFP if they refuse to endorse him. And despite polling showing a generic WFP candidate getting as much as 24% of the vote in a three-way contest, it is highly unlikely a relative unknown like Teachout would match a generic candidate’s numbers. Polling with specific individuals has been more sobering; New York City Public Advocate Letitia James (who won her City Council seat as a WFP candidate running against a Democrat) only hit 13% in a recent poll.

Despite the obvious concerns, her biography is compelling and fits nicely with the narrative the WFP wants to advance. She has written extensively on campaign finance, an issue Cuomo has put on the back-burner as he continues to raise large sums of money almost entirely from large donors, and was a candidate to draft the disbanded Moreland Commision on Public Corruption’s preliminary report. She also worked on Howard Dean’s innovative 2004 presidential campaign as his Director of Internet Outreach; a sign of her ability to organize from the grassroots. Even if she falls short of making a serious dent in Cuomo’s margin of victory, Teachout’s campaign will show progressives across the country that New York’s governor isn’t the progressive his father was.

Update (05/30/2014 11:52PM): Capital New York reports that the WFP has reached a tentative agreement to endorse Cuomo for re-election in exchange for a public declaration of support for Democratic control of the state senate.