ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily beat back a primary challenge from activist and actress Cynthia Nixon on Thursday, thwarting her attempt to become the latest insurgent liberal to knock off an establishment Democrat.
Cuomo, who always led in the polls and outspent his rival more than 8 to 1, seldom mentioned Nixon by name during an often-nasty campaign, instead touting his experience, achievements in two terms as governor and his work to push back against President Donald Trump.
“It’s New York’s obligation to stand up and lead and lead against a lot of these changes in Washington that are totally opposite of who we are as New Yorkers and what we believe,” he said at his Westchester County polling place Thursday morning. “There is a divisiveness coming out of Washington that I think is cancerous to this nation.”
Thursday’s results were good across the board for Cuomo, whose preferred candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general also survived contentious primaries. And despite Nixon’s loss, liberals celebrated victories for several left-leaning challengers who ousted longtime legislative incumbents.
With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans more than 2 to 1 in New York, Cuomo becomes the automatic front-runner in November’s matchup with Republican Marc Molinaro and independent Mayor Stephanie Miner.
Nixon, a longtime education activist and actress best known for her Emmy-winning role as lawyer Miranda Hobbes on HBO’s “Sex and the City,” was counting on a boost from liberals looking to oust establishment politicians. She called herself a democratic socialist and pointed to recent congressional primary victories by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley as evidence that underdog challengers can defy the odds.
Nixon thanked supporters Thursday in Brooklyn, saying that together they helped push Cuomo to the left and show that liberals have a shot at making big changes.
“Before we take our country back we have to take our party back,” she said. “This is an incredible moment for progressives but it’s not just a moment. It’s a movement.”
Cuomo won 65 percent of votes cast, with about 93 percent of precincts counted. That’s about the same two-thirds share of the vote he received in his 2014 primary contest with law professor Zephyr Teachout, who mounted a failed bid for attorney general this year.
Cuomo secured key endorsements from Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — as well as musician Nicki Minaj — and influential groups such as the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood. And despite Nixon’s efforts, polls showed several key Democratic voting blocs remained loyal to the incumbent, including African-Americans, young voters and women.
The 60-year-old governor spent much of the race touting his own liberal accomplishments such as same-sex marriage, gun control and paid family leave. And he increasingly made the race about pushing back against the policies of Trump and other Republicans in Washington. At the same time, he dismissed Nixon as a naive dilettante and mocked her work as an actress.
“If it was all about name recognition,” he said earlier this year, “then I’m hoping Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race.”
Despite the rhetoric, Cuomo took Nixon seriously, spending $8.5 million, largely on ads, in the final weeks of the campaign to answer her repeated attacks that the governor has not invested enough in New York City’s beleaguered subway system and failed to deliver on upstate economic development promises.
There were indications that the 52-year-old Nixon’s aggressive campaign pushed the incumbent governor to the left on several issues, including legalizing marijuana and addressing crumbling public housing in New York City.
Nixon deserves credit for the shift, according to Fordham University political scientist Christina Greer.
“Cuomo is no idiot,” she said. “The winds of change right now are with insurgent candidates and not necessarily with incumbents. He’s seen that in his own state. So he took Nixon more seriously than he let on. He didn’t just slightly pivot, he full-on leapt to the left.”
Cuomo was a no-show at his own election night celebration, skipping the Democratic Party’s event in Manhattan to stay at the governor’s mansion in Albany with family. The crowd in Manhattan was all smiles as they waited for results to come in.
Cuomo supporter Karen Champion, a 58-year-old pastor, said her respect for the governor grew when he began pushing back against Trump. She also cited Cuomo’s experience.
“I support Cuomo because of the bigger picture, we need a voice beyond a state,” Champion said. “He’s working on issues of gun violence, immigration, he’s stood up against this president. … These are the important issues for the little man, for us.”
In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, incumbent and Cuomo running mate Kathy Hochul defeated challenger Jumaane Williams, a New York City councilman who had promised if elected to serve as a check on Cuomo.
Hochul, a former congresswoman from Buffalo, spent much of the campaign touting her role in the Cuomo administration. Cuomo first picked her as his running mate in the 2014 election.
Cuomo’s pick for attorney general, New York City Public Advocate Tish James, won a four-way Democratic primary.
While he may have won, Cuomo, a former U.S. housing secretary and son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, did not escape the primary unscathed.
Two of his former top aides were convicted this year on corruption charges related to his signature economic development programs, giving ample ammunition to Nixon — as well as his general election opponents.
Cuomo himself snuffed out speculation that he might run for president in 2020, pledging in his only debate with Nixon that he would serve a full four-year term if re-elected this year.
And then there were Cuomo’s self-inflicted wounds in the waning days of the campaign.
He was mocked for saying America “was never that great” during remarks criticizing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
He invited 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 old, largely disassembled Tappan Zee Bridge could hit the new structure.
Cuomo 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. Cuomo’s spokeswoman later acknowledged that two former aides volunteering on the campaign were behind the piece.
Nixon, who is raising two of her children in the Jewish faith, demanded an apology that never came.
Nixon now must decide whether she wants to run on the November ballot as a candidate for the third-party Working Families Party, thanks to a New York state law that allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines. Early in the campaign, Nixon said she would stand aside if she lost the Democratic primary, but it remains to be seen whether the party can remove her name from the ballot.
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