ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Polls may show her far behind New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Thursday’s Democratic primary, but Cynthia Nixon says she knows something that Cuomo and the pollsters don’t.
There’s a movement, she says, of left-leaning voters tired of piecemeal progress on crumbling subways, political corruption and income inequality. She points to recent upset primary wins in New York, Florida and Massachusetts as proof that pundits can get it wrong, and that she has a shot at leading the nation’s fourth-largest state.
“We need fundamental change. That has come from a groundswell from the people,” the longtime activist and former “Sex and the City” star said on public radio Tuesday. “Don’t believe the polls, don’t believe the hype. We have a chance to strike a blow for real progressives.”
Cuomo, for one, takes the threat seriously. Four years ago he largely ignored primary challenger Zephyr Teachout, refusing even to shake her hand, and lost a third of the vote. This year he’s spent millions on ads, marshalled key endorsements and, intentionally or not, moved to the left on issues such as legalizing marijuana, banning plastic bags, returning voting rights to former inmates and addressing conditions in New York City public housing.
His campaign has dismissed Nixon as a dilettante while Cuomo has tried to make the race about President Donald Trump.
“I am the most aggressive governor in the United States of America in taking him on,” he said in a campaign speech Monday in Syracuse that didn’t include one mention of Nixon’s name. “This Thursday the 13th, we’re going to make it an unlucky day for Donald Trump… let’s fight back and let’s show him that his nonsense doesn’t sell here.”
The winner of the primary will face Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, an independent, in the November general election.
Throughout the campaign, Nixon has hammered Cuomo for not investing enough in New York City’s beleaguered transit system, for not addressing political corruption and for failing to deliver on economic development promises upstate.
Yet in the final weeks of the campaign Cuomo himself turned out to be one of his campaign’s biggest liabilities.
He was mocked for saying America “was never that great” during remarks criticizing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
He invited Hillary Clinton to a celebratory opening of the final span of the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson — only to keep the bridge closed after engineers warned that pieces from the largely disassembled Tappan Zee Bridge could hit the new bridge.
Cuomo also claimed to have no knowledge of a Democratic Party mailer that questioned Nixon’s support for Jewish people — despite Cuomo’s control of the party and a recent $2.5 million contribution to its campaign operations. Party Director Geoff Berman later said the mailer was a mistake, and Cuomo’s spokeswoman acknowledged that a Cuomo campaign worker was behind the piece.
On the last day of campaigning before voters go to the polls, Nixon was still outraged by the mailer, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
“Andrew Cuomo needs to apologize, first and foremost,” Nixon said. “I am the mother of Jewish children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He needs to say not only is this inappropriate, he needs to say it’s not true.”
Nixon’s supporters agreed.
“Jews deserve better. Democrats deserve better. New Yorkers deserve better,” City Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) said. “Voters deserve to hear Mr. Cuomo describe Miss Nixon as a worthy opponent who abhors anti-Semitism.”
Cuomo ignored the plea, focusing instead on Trump.
“He has unleashed a cancer and it grows out of control,” Cuomo said at the rally. “Mr. President, you have to understand there is no such thing as a good white supremacist. There is no such thing as a good KKK member.”
CBS2’s Kramer spoke to Baruch College pundit Doug Muzzio about the governor’s strategy.
“In Cuomo’s calculus it’s a good idea because any time he talks about Trump he gets favorable reactions,” Muzzio said. “So Trump is the fall-back position.”
Muzzio said it’s about turning a negative into a positive.
“He’s a master. He does it all the time,” Muzzio said. “It’s amazing to watch him. You could teach a course in political science over his campaign.”
The most recent poll on the race shows Cuomo has only widened his lead. A Siena College survey released Monday found he has an overwhelming 63-22 percentage point lead over Nixon. Earlier polls had given Cuomo a more than 30 percentage point lead.
Nixon points to socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory over longtime Congressman Joe Crowley as evidence that underdog challengers can defy the odds. But Siena pollster Steven Greenberg said surveys show Cuomo remains the pick of a majority of female voters, voters under 35 and voters who describe themselves as liberal.
Cuomo “now seems poised to overwhelm Nixon,” Greenberg said.
Thursday’s primary also features a four-way Democratic contest for attorney general, which is being closely watched because of the office’s ability to investigate Trump and his business and charity dealings. New York City Public Advocate Tish James, who has Cuomo’s support, faces Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, attorney Leecia Eve and Teachout, a Fordham University law professor who has Nixon’s endorsement. James was the early front runner but Monday’s Siena poll suggests she’s now nearly neck-and-neck with Maloney and Teachout.
Whoever wins that race would be heavily favored against Republican Keith Wofford in November.
Several competitive primaries for the state Legislature will also be decided, including some high-profile contests featuring challengers hoping to retire state senators who were former members in the Independent Democratic Conference, a now defunct faction that broke with mainline Democrats to support GOP control of the chamber.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)