Andrew Cuomo, heir to a political dynasty and Governor of New York, was supposed to be a shoe-in for reelection and a possible 2016 Presidential contender if Clinton said no to a bid. But since his overwhelming 2010 victory, Cuomo has struggled to look intimidating.
To be fair, Cuomo’s struggles are not necessarily his fault. As many Republican leaders have learned in red states, one party dominance tends to lead to ideological schisms and intraparty battles in state parties. But until now Democrats have reaped the benefits of such squabbles among the GOP. Now, in NY state and elsewhere, Democrats are dealing with the same issue.
Democrats have had these fights before. Executive Editor of LiberalOasis, Bill Scher, notes that in both Connecticut and Arkansas these instances have not been kind for the party. In 2006, in Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman was challenged by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. Lamont ended up winning the primary 52%-48%. But Lieberman ran as an Independent candidate and crushed Lamont 50%-40% (I rounded) in the general election. Exit polls showed that a substantial minority of Democrats, 33%, voted for Lieberman, as did a majority of moderates, 55%, and Independents, 54%. Lieberman ultimately decided to caucus with the Democrats as an Independent but he irked the party faithful with his support of President Bush’s surge strategy and endorsing John McCain for President in 2008. He also helped torpedo the Public Option in Obamacare in 2009.
Arkansas Democrats faced a similar dynamic in 2010. Senator Blanche Lincoln, reviled by conservatives for supporting Obamacare and loathed by progressives for killing the public option, barely won her party’s primary against progressive favorite Bill Halter. So damaged was she from the primary that she lost to a GOP Congressman by a whopping 58%-37%.
Both Lamont and Halter represented the grassroots element of the Democratic Party that increasingly sees its leaders as pro-corporatism. But, both Arkansas and Connecticut illustrate that not all Democrats are comfortable with the grassroots mindset. However, like a sizable minority of Republicans, these partisans tend to not come out and vote in primaries.
In regards to New Y0rk, Cuomo won the primary with 62.2% of the vote. His running mate, former Congresswomen Kathy Hochul won with 59.1%. Both of these numbers are underwhelming considering Cuomo and Hochul outspent their opponents by over 20-1. Further, Cuomo was not exactly a conservative. Since he has been in office he has raised taxes on the wealthy, pushed through gay marriage legislation, implemented new gun control policies and made New York’s laws regarding abortion argueably the most liberal in the nation. Still, it is not enough for the party’s base.
The party base has their reasons for griping. Cuomo has opposed raising taxes to pay for pre-K education (even as he supports its implementation), selected a conservative Democrat for a running mate (Hochul) and been unresponsive to calls for more stringent regulation of Wal Street.
According to some Democrats, like Cuomo/Hochul’s opponents Zephyr/Wu, the answer lies in primary challenges to establishment Democrats. That has worked out so well for the GOP recently and Democrats in the past why not try it (sarcasm)? Pragmatic Democrats know this is a bad route to go. It risks alienating the moderate, suburban voters Democrats have won in recent cycles nationwide. It also risks creating economic and investment uncertainty amid the business community. Indeed, Cuomo and Democrats like Jerry Brown in California have not enacted sweeping progressive economic agendas because they know it would stifle their state’s economies.
This does not matter to ideologues like Wu and Zephyr. They see the advantage their party has now as fleeting and want to enact the progressive utopian vision of higher taxes on the wealthy, more regulation, no charter schools or vouchers, on everybody. If this vision ever becomes widespread enough in the party to dominate it would mean the GOP and Democrats would be even further apart. But, ending on a positive note, it could mean a few compromising Republicans and Democrats could get support from the public to end the gridlock and solve state and national problems. Don’t expect Zephyr and Wu to be those kind of Democrats.