How New York Gov. Cuomo was able to crush Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo left little to chance in his Democratic primary fight against Cynthia Nixon, a race that drew national attention.
Cuomo, a master at using the levers of power in government, turned all the resources of his campaign and office to his advantage.
He was able to use more than $21 million in campaign spending to tout his record over the past eight years and beat back attacks on scandals that have rocked his administration to land a blowout victory Thursday over the neophyte Nixon.
"We have provided real-life progressive solutions. You cannot have the word 'progressive' without the word 'progress.' It doesn’t work," Cuomo said at a news conference Friday.
Cuomo beat Nixon 66 percent to 34 percent in the primary, on par with his primary victory over Zephyr Teachout in 2014.
The margin of victory came amid a surge in voter turnout: 24 percent of total enrolled Democrats cast a ballot on Thursday compared to 10 percent in 2014.
Cuomo was able to galvanize union support that eluded him in 2014 and that aided turnout along with a Democratic base that is more engaged following President Donald Trump's election.
Turnout was also boosted by heavily contested primaries in the New York City area, in particular, that led to seven Democratic incumbents in the Senate to lose their seats — a remarkable result in a state where incumbents rarely lose.
The Democrats' ire was directed mainly at the former eight-member Democratic Independent Conference, who had aligned with Republicans over much of the past seven years in the Senate, drawing criticism that they blocked progressive legislation.
Six of the eight ex-IDC members lost in primaries, including its former leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who spent $2 million on his race but still fell to Alessandra Biaggi in a race that stretched into Westchester.
”Voters again made it clear that this is a new day and politics as usual are no longer acceptable," said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, who heads the mainline Democratic Conference and brokered a unity deal with Klein in April that didn't stave off IDC challengers.
It wasn't just that Cuomo blanketed the airwaves with television ads and ads on social media.
He used the power of his office to boost his standing, which drew criticism from his foes, but nonetheless helped him.
"When others were underestimating us, he did not — and he spent accordingly," Nixon said at the opening of her concession speech.
Nearly 1 million property-tax rebate checks were sent out before the primary, when they typically don't go out until late fall and through the winter.
Cuomo's office said the process became more efficient, so the checks went out earlier this year.
Others saw it different.
"The Senate was complaining most loudly about delays in the checks in previous years, and this year’s earlier posting could be seen as a response to those complaints that conveniently serves the governor’s interests as well," said E.J. McMahon, who heads the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy.
Cuomo will face Republican candidate Marc Molinaro on the November ballot, as well as several third-party candidates, including Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, Libertarian candidate Larry Sharpe and Serve America Movement candidate Stephanie Miner.
Cuomo's aggressiveness also came with peril.
He held a huge ceremony the Friday before the primary to tout the opening of the second span of the Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge in the Hudson Valley, only for the span's opening to be delayed several days.
And in the days leading up to the primary, Cuomo's campaign was embroiled in controversy over an anti-Semitic mailer it sent out about Nixon -- which the campaign later admitted was inappropriate.
Cuomo used the massive power of his office to his benefit.
Cuomo has the disposal of a state fleet of aircraft, allowing him to make multiple stops per day to discuss policy, make announcements and in recent months bash the Trump administration — which played well with Democrats in the primary.
Cuomo took 195 trips in state planes and helicopters in 2017, the New York Times reported earlier this month, which was significantly more than other big-state governors.
State agencies also put out a series of mailers ahead of the primary, including one from the Department of Motor Vehicles that encouraged residents to vote with the line.
"Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is expanding access and opportunity to New Yorkers to register to vote,” one read, according to the New York Post.
Cuomo, though, credited his strong record and apathy toward Trump as the reason for his success on Primary Day.
Cuomo targeted Trump more than Nixon during the campaign, touting his experience in office compared to Nixon.
He said Friday he understands the sentiment of voters, pointing to his record that includes a higher minimum wage, paid-family leave, free SUNY tuition for income-eligible students and a property-tax cap.
His primary ticket all won: Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul beat New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams; and Tish James, the New York City public advocate, won a four-candidate race for attorney general.
"A progressive Democrat, a Democrat in New York state. These are not ivory tower academics. These are not pontificators," Cuomo said Friday.
"New York Democrats, these are hard-working men and women. They are middle class; they are working families. They have real problems, and they need real help in life."