Five things to watch for in New York primaries

Five things to watch for in New York primaries
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Voters in New York head to the polls in the Democratic primary on Thursday to determine whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets a chance at a third term in November.

Cuomo’s fight against former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon has attracted headlines for months and underlined divisions among New York Democrats over whether the state’s governor should be pulled further to the left.

Here are five things to watch.


Will Andrew Cuomo win, and if so by how much?

On paper, Cuomo doesn’t appear to be in serious political jeopardy. His campaign is far-better financed than Nixon’s and he’s leading in virtually every public poll. A Siena College survey released last week gave Cuomo a 41-point lead over his progressive challenger, and he led among every demographic group, including women.

But the two-term governor is certainly taking the race seriously. In the last three weeks of the campaign, Cuomo’s campaign spent $8.5 million — much of it on television ads. By comparison, Nixon’s campaign spent only about $450,000.

Cuomo has also been consistently floated as a potential 2020 presidential contender, even as he has sought to tamp down the talk during the primary.

A strong performance in Thursday’s primary would inevitably fuel more speculation about a potential run for the White House. But a possible loss to Nixon — or an underwhelming victory — would likely stymie any 2020 ambitions.

Cuomo has also found himself on the defensive in recent days.

The New York governor has sought to distance his campaign from a mailer that falsely suggested that Nixon is anti-Semitic. The mailer was paid for by the New York State Democratic Party, but Cuomo’s campaign has denied having anything to do with the message and party officials have said that it was “a mistake and completely inappropriate.”

Cuomo has also faced scrutiny over a New York Times report that his administration offered a contractor enticements to finish construction on a bridge spanning the Hudson River by an Aug. 24 deadline. 

Cuomo had held an opening ceremony for the bridge last week and had included completion of the bridge among a list of achievements in infrastructure projects.

Nixon and others have accused Cuomo of pushing for the bridge’s opening ahead of the primary. Cuomo has rejected the notion that the opening was politically motivated.

Can progressives get another victory?

Nixon faces an uphill challenge to unseat Cuomo, who has a big advantage in polling and fundraising.

Nonetheless, she is hoping progressive energy sweeping races this year will help carry her into the governor’s mansion, frequently citing upsets by other progressives who were also down in polls and funds before the primaries. 

Progressives have notched a series of wins in Democratic gubernatorial primaries this year, including Andrew Gillum in Florida, Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland.

In New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned the political world in June by defeating Rep. Joseph Crowley (D) in the Democratic House primary, while in Massachusetts Ayanna Pressley defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Dem Sen. Markey faces potential primary challenge in Massachusetts Chris Evans: 'If you're not worried about Roe v Wade, you're not paying attention' MORE (D).

Nixon has campaigned on a decidedly progressive agenda including marijuana legalization and “Medicare for all.” 

Progressives are also hoping for another victory further down the ballot in the attorney general race. Law professor Zephyr Teachout unsuccessfully ran to the left of Cuomo in 2014, and she was defeated by now-Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (R-N.Y.) in her 2016 House bid.

While the governor’s race appears like a longshot for Nixon, the attorney general’s race is wide open, with the most recent public poll from Siena College showing Teachout polling not too far behind Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Letitia James, a New York City public advocate.

Notably, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues Lee, Sanders introduce bill to tax Wall Street transactions MORE (I-Vt.) abstained from endorsing in the governor’s race, but is backing Nixon’s running mate, Jumaane Williams, and Teachout in the attorney general race.

Will Cynthia Nixon’s star power help or hurt?

Nixon earned widespread name recognition for her role as Miranda Hobbes in HBO’s “Sex and the City.” That celebrity status helped boost her insurgent gubernatorial bid early on.

But it’s unclear how that celebrity status will play in New York.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE’s election in 2016 showed the willingness of voters to elevate a celebrity to the nation’s highest office instead of a longtime politician, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE.

Then again, Trump is deeply unpopular in New York, raising the possibility that voters might feel more comfortable turning to an experienced incumbent, like Cuomo, over an insurgent celebrity candidate who has campaigned to the left of the Democratic establishment.

Nixon, however, has largely embraced her celebrity. During a visit to a Brooklyn housing project in March, she said that her status helped attract media attention to important issues that would likely fly under-the-radar otherwise.

 “All you people come out and cover it, so we can talk about what’s really happening,” Nixon said, according to The Washington Post. “That’s the frank matter about celebrity.”

AG pick could make history

Democrats have nominated a number of glass-ceiling-shattering candidates in 2018, and the race for New York attorney general is poised to be the latest example.

Four Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination, including three women: James, Teachout and Verizon executive Leecia Eve. A woman has never been elected to the attorney general post in New York.

Barbara Underwood, the current attorney general, was appointed to the post after its former occupant, Eric Schneiderman, resigned amid allegations that he physically abused several women.

What’s more, if James or Eve win in November, they could become the first African-American woman to be elected to statewide office in New York. 

Another Democratic attorney general hopeful, Maloney, could be the first openly gay official elected to statewide office.

On the Republican side, attorney Keith Wofford, who is African-American, is running unopposed for his party’s attorney general nomination.

A recent Siena College poll showed Maloney narrowly leading the pack at 25 percent, with James in a close second at 24 percent.

More trouble for Trump

If a Democrat wins the attorney general’s race in November, it could spell trouble for Trump in his home state. Each of the four Democrats vying for the nomination have spoken aggressively about launching new investigations into the president, his business and his now-defunct charitable foundation.

“With respect to Donald Trump, we need to follow his money,” James said at a recent Democratic debate.

“We need to find out where he’s laundered money, we need to find out whether he’s engaged in conspiracy and whether or not he’s colluded, not only with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but also with China, as well,” she said.

At that same debate, Maloney suggested charging a senior official in the state attorney general’s office with “backstopping” the federal investigations into Trump’s campaign and his associates. 

Before resigning in May, Schneiderman had positioned himself as a fierce opponent of Trump. His office sued Trump University, the business mogul’s for-profit real estate training program, in 2013, alleging illegal business practices. 

He later launched an investigation into the Trump Foundation and participated in a number of lawsuits challenging Trump’s policies as president.

Even after his resignation, his successor filed a lawsuit against Trump for alleged “improper and extensive political activity” and “self-dealing” by his charitable foundation.

The current slate of Democratic attorney general candidates has signaled a willingness to be even more aggressive, setting up the possibility that Trump could fall under additional legal scrutiny in New York. 

Lisa Hagen contributed.