Updated: A guide to Cuomo’s 2018 challengers

Andrew Cuomo Marc Molinaro
Andrew Cuomo Marc Molinaro
Philip Kamrass/Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro.

Updated: A guide to Cuomo’s 2018 challengers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces a number of both Democratic and Republican prospective opponents.
March 22, 2018

Although the state primary and general elections are months away, the gubernatorial election is already in full swing, with both Democratic and Republican candidates deciding whether to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking his third term. Earlier this year, City & State spoke with Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political consultant, and John McArdle, a Republican political consultant, about the roster of potential and confirmed candidates and the state of the race at the beginning of 2018.

Democratic candidates

Andrew Cuomo(lev radin/shutterstock)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo – The Democrat announced in 2016 that he would run for a third term. In a January poll by Siena College, Cuomo had a strong 62 percent favorability rating, with 76 favorability among Democrats. However, his ratings slipped last month, perhaps due to the corruption trial of his former top aide, Joseph Percoco. A February Siena poll found his favorability rating had fallen to 53 percent. In a February Quinnipiac poll, only 47 percent of voters said they approve of the job he is doing as governor. Although 2014 primary challenger Zephyr Teachout garnered 34 percent of the vote against Cuomo, signalling that the governor could be vulnerable to a challenge from the left, Gyory believes that Cuomo is unlikely to face a serious threat in 2018. “The governor is much stronger with the liberal or progressive wing of the Democratic Party than he was four years ago,” Gyory said, noting that Cuomo has appeased some of his left-wing critics with moves like banning hydraulic fracturing.

Stephanie Miner(City of Syracuse)

Stephanie Miner – Gyory called the former Syracuse mayor and current visiting scholar at New York University the “only candidate I would take seriously,” due to her record leading the state’s fifth-largest city. Miner said in July that she had been approached by progressives about running for governor. She considered challenging Republican Rep. John Katko, saying in late November that his vote for the congressional Republican tax plan made her reconsider her pledge not to run against him. However, in a recent interview with The New York Times, Miner confirmed that she would not run against Katko, but was still strongly considering challenging Cuomo.

Terry Gipson(State Senate)

Terry Gipson – The former state senator from the Hudson Valley formed a campaign committee in November and released a video announcing his bid in December, but he dropped out of the race the day after Nixon launched her campaign. Gyory had called him an “excellent candidate” for his former state Senate seat, which he lost to state Sen. Sue Serino in 2014, but noted that he has little name recognition elsewhere in the state.

Cynthia Nixon(Shutterstock)

Cynthia NixonThe former “Sex and the City” star, education advocate and ally of Cuomo rival New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on March 19 that she is running for governor, after months of publicly hinting that she was mulling a gubernatorial bid. Nixon had earlier said in an interview with the “Today” show in August that “there are a lot of people who would like me to run,” indicating that the focus of her campaign would be improving the state’s education system. In January, Nixon responded with a vague “maybe” to questions about whether she would run. In March, NY1 reported that Nixon was consulting with Rebecca Katz and Bill Hyers, two former advisors to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, indicating that she is seriously considering a bid against Cuomo.

But Gyory said that Nixon’s celebrity status may work against her, as New Yorkers could be wary of entertainers seeking higher office in the era of President Donald Trump. He also noted that Nixon hasn’t established positions on hot-button issues, such as criminal justice and housing. Gyory asked, “If you’re somebody who is as accomplished an actor as Cynthia Nixon is, and you’re a smart person, which she is, would you want to do this in the absence of fertile political ground for that kind of an assault on Cuomo?”

The state of the Democratic primary

While Teachout was able to campaign largely on concerns over fracking and the environment in 2014, the governor passed several progressive measures during his second term that could ward off a potential challenger on the left.

“Cuomo has built up an awful lot of armor on his left flank based on delivering on issues like climate change, fracking, education, the LGBT front and, of course, minimum wage and paid family leave,” Gyory said.

Although New York City’s worsening subway crisis and problems with MTA funding could be an issue in a primary race, Gyory said that it would not be an “Achilles heel.”

“Is there disgruntlement from some of the progressive leaders? Yes,” Gyory said. “But does it translate over into anger at the governor from rank-and-file voters? I don’t see it.”

Republican candidates

John DeFrancisco(Mike Groll)

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFranciscoMcArdle said DeFrancisco, who publicly deliberated a bid for months before making a decision, would be an “excellent candidate” because of his mastery of critical issues and his ability to communicate his ideas. However, DeFrancisco faces the same issues as Kolb did, as an upstate Republican who would be easily outspent by Cuomo. “Upstate you have a candidate who can do very well, but without that support in the downstate suburbs to counter the New York City effect, it’s very difficult to run and win statewide,” McArdle said.

DeFrancisco formally announced his bid for governor with a press conference in Syracuse on Jan. 30. While he has garnered support from some county leaders, he recently lost a straw poll among state Republican leaders to Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. DeFrancisco has said he will stay in the race through the state Republican convention in May.

Marc Molinaro.jpg

Marc Molinaro
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro
Philip Kamrass/Office of the Governor

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro - Molinaro declined to run at the beginning of the year, but a “Draft Molinaro” campaign from some statewide Republicans has induced him to enter the fray. Molinaro confirmed to Republican county leaders that he is running for governor, and will officially launch his campaign on April 2. He has already received endorsements from the many Republican county leaders, giving him enough support to win the Republican nomination at the party’s state convention in May.

The state of the Republican primary

Several potential candidates have chosen to pass on a gubernatorial bid, including the reported favorite of the state GOP establishment, businessman Harry Wilson. According to McArdle, Wilson would have been the ideal Republican candidate to run in New York, in large part because of his ability to donate $10 million of his own money to his campaign. Without somebody with a “strong business background, successful, and can self-finance and appeal to independents and some Democrats,” McArdle said, the race becomes more complicated.

Third-party candidates

Joel Giambra The former Erie County executive was the second declared Republican candidate for governor, announcing his bid on Jan. 3, but his previous support for Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and de Blasio made state Republican leaders balk. Giambra dropped his bid for the Republican nomination on March 1 and announced that he would run as an independent, but he is still unlikely to garner much support from GOP voters. “I would hope that Republicans can find someone who has not got that kind of background or (given) that kind of support in the past for Democrats to be the nominee,” McArdle said before Giambra dropped out.

Larry Sharpe – Sharpe, a businessman, is expected to win the Libertarian Party’s endorsement in the gubernatorial race. His campaign has reported donations more than five times the amount of Republican candidates’ total, and he currently has over $26,000 in cash on hand.

Howie Hawkins – Hawkins was the Green Party gubernatorial candidate in 2014. On March 21, he released a statement welcoming Nixon to the race and saying that he “would be happy to host a public forum with Cynthia Nixon in my home city of Syracuse for a wide-ranging discussion of the issues.” He described himself in this statement as “contemplating” running for governor in 2018.

The state of the general election

Between the dearth in declared Democratic challengers and Republican opponents as well as a steady governing record and a deeply unpopular president, Cuomo is well-positioned for the general election.

“I wouldn’t bet against him,” McArdle said. He also said time is running out for potential candidates on either side to launch a bid against Cuomo, due to the fundraising and campaigning needs. “Ideally, they’re already announced and they’re out circulating the state raising money.”

Gyory noted that Democrats have a voter registration advantage in New York. Plus, other Democratic officials in New York – such as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul – are popular in the state, while the Republican Party, at least nationwide, is not. Since New York has not seen a Republican candidate win statewide office since Gov. George Pataki, who was last re-elected in 2002, Gyory said any state candidates will now be tied to Trump.

“In New York politics, Trump spells ‘tsuris,’” he said, referring to a Yiddish term for trouble.

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.