New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began the year making headlines by being the only voice in Albany talking sense to Bill de Blasio. The Democrat is closely allied to Hillary Clinton and a long shot in the polls, but his policies have begun raising the question of whether he could derail the Clinton 2016 inevitability train.
The speculation began long ago and very early into his tenure. In February 2011, Charles Gasparino wrote at The Daily Beast that he could feel the stirring within Cuomo: “If he can be even moderately successful in bringing order to New York State’s insane finances, he might be the best candidate running on the 2016 Democratic ticket.” Cuomo’s tax-cutting first budget triggered Gasparino’s post, but it took the left several months to catch up with the Fox Business anchor. When Governor Cuomo passed a bill to legalize gay marriage in New York, former Clinton adviser Richard Socarides told USA Today that “clearly, this establishes him as the most important progressive leader of our party, setting him up very well for 2016.”
Socarides likely did not contend with Senator Elizabeth Warren or Mayor Bill de Blasio – the latter himself a product of the Clinton machine who was rejected as campaign manager for being an inefficient and flaky leader. Both have a shot at destroying their reputations as senior progressive leaders, though the latter is working overtime to do so, and his public war with Cuomo is both doing his profile no favors and increasing Cuomo’s appeal among reasonable voters.
It was easy for pundits in 2011 to write about Cuomo’s presidential aspirations – after all, Democrats still had to get over the 2012 election, and the horizon bore little hope for a viable Democratic candidate in 2016. Today, however, 2016 is only a midterm election away, and real polls are showing Cuomo’s current viability. Those polls are less than stellar. The latest from Public Policy Polling places Cuomo fifth in the race at a paltry 2%. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, scores 67% of the Democratic primary vote.
Clinton is a formidable force, but with a track record significantly damaged since 2012. We now know she added an abysmal record as Secretary of State to her resumé that includes the murder of a U.S. ambassador and several U.S. officials on her watch. Her response to the deaths – a callous rehashing of a Smiths song title – is tailor-made attack ad fodder. Nonetheless, Cuomo owes much of his political expertise to Bill Clinton, and many contend that he would not be willing to throw away that relationship by evolving from ally to rival.
The Hill reports that anyone with any proximity to the Governor believes that Cuomo would not take on Clinton directly, instead stacking his cards for 2020 or perhaps flirting with presenting himself as a viable vice presidential pick. However, Cuomo’s ambitions have also been very clear, according to some close to him. “He’s been interested in running for president for years,” state legislator Richard Brodsky told the publication. Cuomo has done little to fight this perception; on Fox Business Network earlier this week, he joked that there was a “technical difficulty” and he could not hear host Maria Baritomo when she asked about 2016.
Cuomo would be the most economically moderate Democrat in the race, barring a surprise appearance by Mike Gravel – and that position is making the far left ask questions about his governing style. At Salon, Alex Pareene questions why Cuomo has taken to fighting every progressive de Blasio move with such zeal, and why he seems to get along so well with moderate Republicans like Governor Chris Christie. “This is the governing style of a politician who feels he has no reason to fear irking the city’s liberals,” Pareene observes, “and who therefore focuses mainly on appealing to and delivering for other constituencies.”
That’s not to say that Cuomo has not alienated conservatives, but merely that he has alienated cultural conservatives far more than economic ones. Cuomo did remark that social conservatives “have no place” in the state, and received well-earned blowback for the comment. However, compared to Senator Warren or Clinton herself, Cuomo has much ground to make up in throwing red meat to the far left. This will hurt him for now, as will his home state and his background – distinctively New Yorker white ethnics always have a difficult time galvanizing working-class, union-member Middle America or nation-within-a-nation California.
If Cuomo is deliberately working on building speculation early, it is working. He will have to hope Hillary Clinton ignores the polls and rides off into the sunset and that another young star in the party does not take his place, but he has certainly earned a place in the 2016 conversation as someone to watch.