ALBANY — With New York Democrats divided over scandals pushing down voter approval ratings of three-term Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Republicans say they are brimming with optimism over their chances of staging a comeback in New York in 2022.
With less than 20 months to go before the Nov. 8, 2022, statewide election, many potential scenarios are being discussed, and the most informed people can only speculate as to who the major party nominees will be — and whether Cuomo will be a candidate himself.
Given the Democrats’ approximate 2-to-1 enrollment advantage over the GOP, a Republican nominee would be immediately assigned underdog status. Such was the case in 1994 when a little-known state senator named George E. Pataki ended the reign of three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo, father of the current officer holder. Pataki would go on to win two more terms.
The third Pataki victory, in 2002, marks the last time a Republican won a statewide race in New York.
“We are very optimistic as we head to a new gubernatorial election year,” said Ray Scollin of Saranac Lake, a member of the New York Republican State Committee, and former chairman of the Franklin County GOP.
Scollin suggested that Republicans could boost their chances in New York by settling on a nominee who was not a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump. While Trump ran strongly in rural regions of upstate New York, he was soundly beaten by President Joe Biden in the statewide tally in November.
Two such potential GOP candidates who could show broad appeal across the state, Scollin suggested, are Harry Wilson, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for comptroller in 2010, and Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who was defeated by Cuomo in 2018.
Cuomo’s administration is now facing an active federal criminal investigation, involving the suppression of nursing home death data in a public report issued close to the time of the publication of his memoir touting “leadership lessons” he said he provided during the pandemic.
Published reports indicate investigators are interested in pandemic immunity protections New York provided to the health care industry, which has been generous in its campaign donations to Cuomo’s campaign and to the state Democratic Party.
The state Attorney General’s Office and the state Assembly, in separate inquiries, are investigating allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed several women, with one woman telling the Albany Times Union the governor groped her breast at the state-owned Executive Mansion. The Assembly is also examining Cuomo’s actions concerning the alleged manipulation of nursing home death data.
Veteran New York Democratic political strategist Hank Sheinkopf said it is possible for Republicans to be highly competitive in 2022 if they field an appealing candidate who can make inroads with Orthodox Jewish voters in New York City and Long Island.
Republicans generally find their strength among Roman Catholic voters in upstate regions, and being able to cut into what has traditionally been the core of support for Democratic candidates — downstate — could put the GOP candidate into play, Sheinkopf said.
Having a “George Pataki-like character” as their candidate with a left-leaning progressive candidate emerging as the nominee from a Democratic primary would create a strong opportunity for Republicans, he suggested.
“A centrist Republican who can talk about the outcomes of government and what he intends to do for people directly, as opposed to ideology, would have a higher probability of being successful,” said Sheinkopf.
Cuomo’s personal political crisis deepened Friday with fresh allegations of sexual harassment making headlines, a New York Times interview with a governor’s office aide, Alyssa McGrath, who indicated the governor looked down her blouse. McGrath, who remains employed in Cuomo’s office, is a friend of the woman Cuomo allegedly groped, the newspaper reported.
Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, said next year’s Democratic primary may favor a left-leaning candidate such as Attorney General Letitia James, should she decide to go for the governor’s office. The anchor of James’ political strength is metropolitan New York City, which has the bulk of Democratic votes in the state.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Reeher said, could perhaps be the Democrats’ most formidable candidate in a general election for governor, though as a moderate he could face resistance in a primary. DiNapoli so far has shown no interest in running for governor.
One reason why Cuomo is in such deep political trouble now is the reluctance of many Democrats to show support for him as the scandals enveloping him mount, he added.
“I don’t think you can assess this thing absent the context of this guy having bullied a lot of different people for a long time,” Reeher said. “In a lot of ways, this is the chickens coming home to roost, regardless of what the specific charges are.”
Republican strategist Vincent Casale of Cooperstown, former chairman of the Otsego County GOP, said that even before the latest scandals he doubted Cuomo would seek a fourth term.
The potential Democratic field could include such moderates as Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-Long Island, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Ballone, with Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D- the Bronx, and James representing the progressive end of the spectrum, Casale said.
“They are going to have to have a very in-depth conversation about the soul of of their party and what direction they are actually going in,” Casale said. “We’ve seen those struggles play out. But Cuomo has been such a strong personality he has been able to hold it all together. Going forward, they are going to have a tougher time with that.”
In the meantime, Casale added, “Somewhere, someone becomes alienated, and that to me is what creates the greatest opportunity for a Republican to win.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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