Tomorrow when the gubernatorial campaigns release their fundraising reports here is how the political handicappers will likely be analyzing those numbers.
First, the Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a big TV ad buy this summer, especially upstate. If the public polls are correct, voters respect the governor’s leadership skills and strongly support his positions on the issues, and as a result he enjoys a large advantage over the Republican nominee Rob Astorino in public polling to date.
Siena’s June 16 poll came out in the middle of that ad buy. That poll showed Cuomo’s favorable rating increasing to 67 percent from 57 percent; his generic re-elect moving up to 57 percent from 50 percent; and he held a 36 percent lead over Astorino, 57-21 percent. Moreover, on issue after issue voters saw themselves as closer to Cuomo than Astorino. The Marist poll just released on July 9 confirms that trend line, for not only does Cuomo lead Astorino 59-24 percent (a 35 percent lead), it indicates that Astorino’s support has not grown since March.
If Cuomo enhanced his cash position this reporting period, despite his high spending on TV ads, political handicappers will give him strong odds, for that would enable Cuomo to continue defining himself this summer, without draining his cash position for the fall, and come out of Labor Day both with momentum and the ability to define Astorino before the Astorino campaign has the opportunity to define itself.
Second, Astorino’s campaign boasted early on of having fundraising pledges in the $10 million-$15 million range by this point in the race; however, recent media reports project Astorino’s fundraising totals to be way under $10 million. Seasoned handicappers will ignore the spin from both sides, focusing on whether the Astorino campaign has a cash balance of at least $8 million this month, on the road to being able to spend $10 million-12 million by October 1.
Why do I say that? If Astorino can’t finance $10 million in campaign spending over the next 10 weeks his campaign will lose credibility.
Before gaining hard support, Astorino must become known by voters. Meanwhile, to move from Astorino’s current 20 percent name recognition in the Siena poll, to the 75 percent level necessary to compete with Cuomo, it will take at least $10 million. If the electorate breaks down by region this November as it did in the 2010 gubernatorial race, then 46 percent of the vote will come from upstate, 30 percent from New York City and 24 percent from the suburbs. Therefore, to win, Astorino must grab 60 percent of the upstate vote, 57-58 percent in the suburbs and crack 30 percent in the five boroughs. The challenge of simultaneously becoming well known and building solid support in all three regions of the state is daunting and expensive.
While Astorino has been focused on raising money, he has not been to markedly increase his familiarity. Siena’s polling showed that back in January 76 percent of voters did not know enough about Astorino to hold an opinion about him. That number dipped slightly to 65 percent in March, but bumped back up 69 percent in June. Furthermore, at no point did Astorino’s favorability rating cross 20 percent in Siena’s polling; in fact, he has been stuck at 18 percent.
If Astorino cannot afford to plant seeds this summer, he will have little chance to harvest votes this fall. Having close to $10 million in cash on hand after next week’s campaign report will give Astorino a chance to make his case in the fall, even as he remains a longshot. However, if Astorino reports having under $5 million in cash on hand, particularly if Cuomo’s cash position continues to improve, it is hard to see Astorino finishing in the money, much less in the winner’s circle.
That view is the cold, hard lens through which seasoned political handicappers will view tomorrow’s fundraising data.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political and strategic consultant at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.