A Cuomo Comeback?

Resigned New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has rather astonishingly not yet ruled out trying to regain his position in this election, and a new Siena College Research Institute poll (3/20-24; 804 NY registered voters; 309 Democratic primary voters) suggests that he might be a competitive contender should he ultimately enter the race.

While it is still unlikely that Mr. Cuomo will return, although he has already financed a wave of “rehabilitation” ads designed to improve his damaged image, the Siena numbers do reveal some weaknesses within the Democratic establishment. This means the general election might become interesting.

One of the Siena poll questions asked about Mr. Cuomo’s potential status as an independent candidate for the November election. With an eventual Republican nominee, likely US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley/East Long Island), presumably being more competitive than a typical New York statewide GOP candidate in this coming general election, a strong independent or minor party contender could become a significant factor in the final outcome and may even have a narrow victory path.

If the resigned Governor is to make a move, he is running out of time to file in a partisan primary. Since he is not the endorsed New York Democratic Party candidate, Gov. Kathy Hochul is, he could obtain a ballot position only through submitting 15,000 valid registered voter signatures on or before the April 7th candidate filing deadline. If he were to attempt ballot access as an Independent, that related deadline does not expire until May 31.

While the base Democratic numbers are still strong for President Joe Biden and Governor Hochul, base Republicans are equivalently fervent against them, but this group is less than half the former’s size. More problematic for the Democratic incumbents and candidates, however, are the non-affiliated voter results, which are clearly trending away.

According to the Siena figures, Gov. Hochul already has an upside down job approval rating of 42:53% within the electorate as a whole, but a positive 63:33% ratio among Democrats. She records only a 19:65% favorably index from Republicans and a more troubling 31:40% negative ratio with the non-affiliated and minor party voter segment.

The most recent published voter registration figures, those dated February 21, 2022 from the New York State Board of Elections, find that 12,982,819 individuals are registered to vote, 49.8% of who identify as Democrats. Republicans account for only 21.9% of the overall electorate, and added with the 1.2% who register in the Conservative party, the clear right-of-center percentage expands to 23.1%. Still, this combined figure is less than half of the Democratic number.

The unaffiliated segment, however, listed as “Blank” within New York registration jargon, totals 23.0%, or just under 3 million people. A strong move to the Republicans from within this segment, plus a low Democratic turnout in the general election could be the formula to create a close gubernatorial election, and this could give a well known figure such as Mr. Cuomo a slight path to victory as an Independent in a crowded race.

At the very least, his presence could deny Gov. Hochul re-election, thus yielding a Republican victory. Such a scenario could therefore lay the groundwork for a Cuomo comeback in 2026.

Even in New York, the political climate now appears questionable for Democrats. President Biden’s job approval rating is 42:57% favorable to unfavorable, and only 36% from within the polling sample believe America is on the right track as compared to 57% who say it is headed in the wrong direction.

These directional ratios are even worse within the unaffiliated sector. Just 25% respond “right track” as compared to 65% believing the country is moving in the wrong direction. This, in a state that President Biden carried 60.4 - 37.5%, making it his seventh strongest voting entity.

The Siena poll projects the Democratic primary breaking only 38-30-10-7% in the Governor’s favor over Mr. Cuomo, US Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), and NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. While 41% of Democrats would either like to see Mr. Cuomo run for Governor as a Democrat (33%) or in the general election as an Independent (8%), a 54% majority desires that he not run for Governor this year. Without Cuomo on the Democratic ballot, Gov. Hochul would lead Mr. Williams and Rep. Suozzi, 52-12-11%.

The pollsters did not test the general election candidates, but they did ask whether the respondents would support Gov. Hochul in November or if they would prefer someone else. The results split down the middle, at 43% for each option, thus further evidence for the argument that the general election could become close.

With the New York candidate filing period expiring within the next ten days, we see yet one more state that merits political attention in what promises to be another unique election year.

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