Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a campaign to go after Republicans. Standing beside House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cuomo declared that New York would fight back to take back Congress district-by-district.
Yet this “New York Fights Back” is an interesting campaign.
For one, Cuomo has not previously expressed much interest in Congress. In 2011, his first year as Governor, he promised to veto gerrymandered districts; instead he settled for a half-measure that won’t take effect until 2022. When the State Senate and Assembly deadlocked over how to gerrymander the districts, he allowed a court to draw the Congressional lines for New York without offering any input. In 2014, former Rep. Steve Israel (Long Island), then-chair of the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, panned Cuomo’s efforts in an interview with the New York Times: “We had conversations several months ago with the governor’s staff about helping to organize and coordinate a campaign and I didn’t see the fruition to those conversations.”
Now that Cuomo is preparing to run for President, evidentially he’s decided to make Congress a priority.
What about helping other Democrats?
However, Cuomo also hasn’t made the state legislature a priority, either. Even though Democrats have a 32-31 majority in the Senate, Republicans control the chamber thanks to the Independent Democratic Conference (believed to be closely allied to Gov. Cuomo) and rouge Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder. Ross Barkan, writing for the Village Voice, details how Cuomo could make a difference to boost Democrats:
As the most powerful official in the state by far, he can apply significant pressure on the IDC to partner with Democrats or dissolve altogether. He can spend a portion of his massive campaign war chest, now approaching $22 million, on senate Democratic races next year. He can command unions to stop bankrolling Republicans.
That seems unlikely to happen. If anything, Cuomo has acted to shelter the IDC during the recent uproar about the Senate lulu scandal. Why? Because, as Barkan elaborates, Cuomo is trying to position himself as a moderate and a Democratic Senate would push him to support Democratic positions.
Who is he picking a fight with?
The rhetoric Cuomo has used is also a fascinating look into his approach towards a national campaign. In the message Cuomo sent out to announce the rally, he railed against “Washington”, not Republicans.
“New York is on the front lines against Washington’s assault on progressive values. Join us for a rally to kick off the start of New York State’s coordinated campaign to take back the House district by district.”
For the kickoff to a Democratic campaign, it’s interesting that he did not mention either Republicans or Democrats. That weirdness seemed to turn into confusion for some rally attendees as red-hatted Electrical Workers heckled speakers for not mentioning their strike against Charter Communications (owners of Spectrum/Time Warner Cable and NY1).
Could this be a harbinger of Cuomo’s challenges?
While political insiders almost universally expect Cuomo to run for President, few are excited about it, in part because of his reluctance to embrace the Democratic Party or Democratic priorities. A recent Buffalo News survey of state Democratic party chairs around the country found no enthusiasm for his campaign. While this might be part of Cuomo’s efforts to lay the groundwork to run for President, it may be too little, too late.