Cynthia Nixon’s media strategy targets key constituencies

Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon
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Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon’s media strategy targets key constituencies

The actress followed her gubernatorial campaign launch with a series of carefully chosen interviews.
March 23, 2018

Since Cynthia Nixon announced that she was running for governor on March 19, she has granted three interviews to media outlets with extremely specific demographics. After launching her campaign in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Nixon gave her first interview to The Amsterdam News, one of the oldest and most prominent black papers in the country. On Thursday, her first interview with a daily publication was published, in The Buffalo News. That night, an interview with Nixon ran in Glamour.

Nixon’s first three interviews highlight a media strategy for her campaign that seems focused on appealing to key demographics – minority voters, upstate residents, and women. In order to defeat two-term incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is popular among these Democratic voters, she will need to sway them to her side.

Elinor Tatum, the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Amsterdam News, said that she and Nixon had known each other for a long time, and that Nixon let Tatum know that she was running almost immediately after her campaign video was launched on Sunday. Afterwards, Tatum reached out to coordinate an interview. “I think it has to do with the fact that she really understands the black vote, and the fact that the Democratic base is largely African American and the power of that black base is black women,” Tatum said about why Nixon may have agreed to do an interview.

In her interview with The Amsterdam News, Nixon discussed issues relevant to New York City voters, including the dilapidated subways and the public housing crisis. When traveling to her campaign launch on Tuesday, she had experienced subway delays, which she said allowed her to talk to fellow riders about their transit woes.

“I don’t know the last time Cuomo was on the subway that wasn’t a photo op. Maybe he has no idea how bad it is,” Nixon told reporter Stephon Johnson. She also said that “the lack of progressive policies” from Cuomo had affected New Yorkers, “especially people of color.”

She then pivoted to discussing upstate, where Zephyr Teachout – the progressive insurgent who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 primary – garnered most of her support. Teachout is now serving as Nixon’s campaign treasurer. Nixon said in her interview with The Amsterdam News that 50 percent of children upstate were living below the poverty line, and economic development projects upstate needed to be improved.

Nixon discussed her plans for upstate development more in her interview with Tom Precious of The Buffalo News on Thursday. She slammed Cuomo for his Buffalo Billion economic development project, which became embroiled in a corruption scandal that goes to trial this year, with allegations of pay-to-play over a state contract to build a solar manufacturing plant. She also criticized Cuomo for not offering more financial aid to Buffalo schools. Nixon also tried to burnish her Buffalo cred in this interview by saying she had friends from Buffalo and had eaten at a popular vegan joint in the city.

Nixon’s third interview of the week was with a national outlet, Glamour, which focuses primarily on women’s issues. As in her two other interviews, Nixon touched on her support for minority and upstate communities. She told Glamour’s Justine Harman that she had chosen the Brownsville neighborhood for her campaign launch because low-income communities of color had been the hardest hit by Cuomo’s economic policies, and her campaign was focused on economic and racial inequality. She also said she was focused on intense poverty upstate, offering the example of Syracuse.

Tellingly, in this interview, Nixon discussed her role in “Sex and the City,” perhaps seeking to appeal to women who watched the show when it aired in the early 2000s. The actress played Miranda Hobbes in the critically acclaimed series focusing on the lives of four women in New York. In this segment of the interview, Nixon talked about her role as a mother.

Nixon also took on Cuomo head on in the Glamour interview, saying that he is “famously vengeful,” which makes it difficult for anyone in Democratic politics to take him on. She rebutted his dismissal of her as a celebrity by calling Cuomo a “celebrity politician” because of his famous father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Nixon only briefly addressed reporters after launching her campaign on Tuesday, and did not take questions at an event on Wednesday night at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, although she did talk to some members the press directly afterward. Her campaign’s media appearances seem to be carefully curated, designed to make the maximum impact with a target audience.

When asked about media strategy, a spokeswoman for Nixon’s campaign said that they would be "meeting New Yorkers where they are and many people today are engaging with new, non-traditional platforms to get their news.” 

"We are going to be running a 21st century campaign that reaches the diverse audiences that make up New York state today — people of color, millennials, progressive women, and the LGBTQ community,” she added.

In each of her three interviews, Nixon emphasized her commitment to ending economic and racial injustice in New York City and upstate, and criticized Cuomo relentlessly. If this is an indication Nixon’s media strategy over the next six months, expect more outreach efforts to communities that she thinks would be open to her candidacy, namely low-income areas, minority voters and women.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect that Cynthia Nixon did take some questions from reporters after her event Wednesday night at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.

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