New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is quietly positioning himself as a social liberal and fiscal centrist as he awaits Hillary Clinton’s decision on whether to run for president.
But if Clinton does not run, Cuomo’s legislative record, as well his perch over the media and financial capital of the country, could make him a strong contender for the nomination.
“He’s been interested in running for president for years,” said Richard Brodsky, a former 14-term Democratic New York state legislator. “He has, I think grudgingly, come to the conclusion that Hillary is an insuperable obstacle if she runs.”
Cuomo is expected to easily win another term as governor this year, and has signaled interest in using the position as a springboard to the White House.
Asked if the presidency was off the table in a Feb. 25 interview on Fox Business, Cuomo smiled and put his fingers to his ear as if adjusting his earpiece. “I’m sorry I’m losing you. We have a technical difficulty,” he joked. He finally answered, “I’m running for governor of the state of New York.”
Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
With 2016 looming in the background, Cuomo has led a liberal charge on social issues in New York. He helped push through a bill legalizing gay marriage in 2011, before President Obama or Hillary Clinton had come out in favor of it.
And after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, New York became the first state to change its gun laws when Cuomo signed limits on the size of magazines and an expanded assault weapons ban.
On fiscal matters, though, Cuomo has taken a decidedly centrist course. He created tax-free zones around college campuses for new businesses and proposed $2 billion in tax cuts this year.
He has also set himself up as a foil to staunchly liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio by rejecting his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy and defending charter schools, a target of the mayor.
“The bottom-line bio here is socially progressive, fiscally prudent, and that’s not a bad record to run on,” said Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College and a longtime New York political observer.
Cuomo is not, however, making the traditional pilgrimages of presidential candidates to early voting states.
He has not traveled to Iowa, unlike Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and even Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who have all gone there to make speeches.
A possible drawback to Cuomo’s low profile is that he is not making connections with the donors and activists who play a huge role in the primary process.
Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran New York Democratic operative, noted that Cuomo has already raised over $33 million for his reelection campaign. "Raising money is not the issue he faces,” he said.
In early presidential polls, Cuomo hovers around 3 percent, miles behind Clinton and several points back from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Vice President Biden. Still, he polls ahead of O’Malley and Schweitzer, who both draw around 1 percent support. He is in a similar position in polls of Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states on the presidential calendar.
While Cuomo has not traveled much outside New York, he launched a $50 million campaign of television advertisements in 2012. The advertisements, which continue this year, tout New York as a great place to do business. Half of the commercials, which are narrated by Robert De Niro and feature music by Jay Z, air outside of New York.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, recently took a swipe at Cuomo over the ads.
Asked at a breakfast in January why Vermont did not have advertisements of its own, Shumlin replied, “I am not running for President of the United States. I know you’re disappointed. As much as I love him, I think maybe our governor to the west is.”
Tea leaf readers could also see something in a trivia question from Cuomo’s official Twitter account that was posted on Presidents Day this year: “Which state had the most governors go on to become president?”
The answer is New York.