Ahead of Thursday’s New York Democratic primary, Cynthia Nixon already has a big win over rival Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Nixon has already succeeded in forcing Cuomo to tack to the left,” said Patrick J. Egan, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies at NYU’s Department of Politics. “He’s not faced a really strong challenger from his liberal flank since being elected governor, and this election has forced him to take stances that are away from the middle, which is his natural inclination to stay close to.”
The question now is will Cuomo stay to the left if reelected to a third term and “perhaps in anticipation of a run for president,” Egan said. The governor, despite his denials, has been rumored to be mulling a presidential run in 2020.
“The national Democratic Party is increasingly showing itself to demand a lot of ideological fealty from candidates, and if Cuomo wants to run for office, that will be a big challenge for him because he’s seen as fairly moderate compared to other Democrats,” Egan said.
Democratic Party 2018: Cuomo vs Nixon, or Establishment vs Outsider
While Andrew Cuomo has two terms as governor and nearly 40 years in politics behind him — the 2018 gubernatorial election is the first foray into politics for longtime actress and activist Cynthia Nixon. If elected, she would be the state’s first female governor, as well as the first openly gay governor, in New York history.
Nixon would not be the first celebrity-turned-politician to claim a governorship — think Jesse Ventura’s unexpected win in Minnesota in 1998 and Arnold Schwarzenegger winning California’s recall election in 2003 and a full-term in 2006.
“These things do happen, where outsiders can, at times, be successful running for the state’s top job,” Egan said. “In that sense, I think (Nixon’s) celebrity has given her a bit of a boost because she has instant name recognition among those familiar with her TV and stage roles, which, let’s be clear, is not everybody.”
A hindrance for Nixon and similar candidates is they might not “have the preexisting relationships with other elected officials you need to get things done,” Egan explained. “Of course that has been a concern about celebrities who have been elected to office — including our current president. That concern is a valid one, and for Nixon to win, she has to successfully diffuse that concern.”
Though Cuomo extended his lead over Nixon to 41 points in the latest Siena College poll, the 2018 Democratic elections so far have shown that anything can happen. Paulette Jordan of Idaho may become the country’s first-ever Native American governor in November, while Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams could be its first black female governor.
Other female candidates, from New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Boston’s Ayanna Pressley, have also disrupted establishment Democrats this year.
“I think the governor primary is, in many ways, a microcosm of what’s happening across the country in the Democratic Party, which is that a more liberal activist base is getting restless with leadership that they view as too moderate,” Egan said. “We are looking at a year in which, most likely, an unprecedented number of women will be elected to Congress, most likely state legislatures as well.”