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What If…?

July 20, 2010

Regular readers of this blog will understand that we’re trying to offer a different view of state politics and government. 

When we assess news developments as a group, we’ll have a vigorous discussion of the facts and each of us will express his or her opinion. It gets spirited at times, but we usually come to a rough consensus. It’s then that we always pause and, at least for a moment, make a conscious effort to consider a completely opposite viewpoint. 

It’s our insistence on playing things out in this way that (we believe) leads to some mildly interesting insights and (we hope) keeps us from being didactic. 

This morning’s discussion provides a perfect example. The issue of the day was the gubernatorial campaign. We were all in accord that Andrew Cuomo certainly seems like our next governor. We’ve been greatly encouraged by his policy platform, and, like everyone else, impressed by his fundraising prowess. At the same time, we’re embarrassed for Rick Lazio, whom even the Republicans are now calling Rick Lazy-o.” Indeed, we assumed that since we weren’t seeing much of Lazio on the campaign trail, he was busy raising money. Alas, his 600k showing certainly disproved that. 

At the end of this discussion, which was probably akin to any number of water cooler or coffee bar chats this morning, we did our thing. That is, we said: “OK, let’s pretend for a moment that it is the day after the election and Cuomo has lost. Let’s figure out why? It looked so good back in July, how did Cuomo’s campaign collapse?” 

The scenario we thought most likely (though still a real stretch) goes something like this: 

Cuomo was overconfident. He and his people kept looking at the head-to-head match up instead of his declining overall favorability ratings. It was 64 percent in January, 58 percent in March, 56 in May and 54 in July. He stabilized at 52 throughout the fall, which his people thought was good enough. 

Cuomo didn’t want to spend campaign cash. He wanted to finish the campaign with a huge war chest that he could use to support his policy agenda as governor. He never did statewide TV advertising until late fall. 

Meanwhile, Paladino surged past Lazio and won the Republican nod. Rather than being the crazy man that he initially seemed to be, Paladino turned out to be a plain-talking, folksy Uncle Carl figure on the campaign trail. He produced brilliant TV ads that played off his own awkwardness: “They say I’m crazy, but let me tell you what is really crazy – it’s Andrew Cuomo and the Democrats giving us the highest taxes, lowest job creation rate and most government corruption in the entire nation!” 

Paladino ended up putting more than $15 million of his own money into the race and benefitted from another $5 million that the national party funneled into New York to help win congressional seats. 

Despite Paladino’s surprise popularity, most people were still convinced that Cuomo was going to win. But in the last month of the campaign, rumors about Cuomo being ill-tempered were given credence when a prominent individual stepped forward to claim that he’d been threatened by the AG. Aides to Cuomo vigorously denied the allegation, but then tapes of the conversation were released and Cuomo was revealed to have had a Mel Gibson-like meltdown. 

This PR disaster was followed by another. The feds made an announcement of a major case against a New York lawmaker just days before the election. The case involved abuse of so-called “member items” and it was revealed that the AG’s office had previously investigated the same lawmaker and apparently gave him a pass on the misconduct. 

Finally, Cuomo, who had kept the unions, minorities and Democratic Party activists at a distance throughout the campaign so as not to appear to be “an insider,” was undone by a record low turnout. In a shocking upset, he loses the race by just 50,000 votes — 49.1 percent to 48.8 percent.   

Does this scenario seem a little far-fetched? Maybe so. But is it impossible? Well, if the last several years in politics proves nothing else, it is that things can turn around quickly for those who seem to have everything going for them. 

The point of our musings is that Cuomo must take heed. As we’ve noted several times before, his support is wide but not deep. This is an ugly, ugly year for established pols. Cuomo must work harder and take nothing for granted if he wants to win impressively and be the successful governor we so desperately need in New York.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    July 20, 2010 2:20 PM

    Nicely done. The scenario depends, though, on Paladino being an acceptable alternative, and he doesn’t look or sound gubernatorial. He’d have to have the best handlers and ad men in the world to make a go of it.

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