Could a Four Way Race Change the Outcome in the Governor’s Race?

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Earlier this week, former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner announced plans to run for New York Governor as an independent. Assuming that Cynthia Nixon stays on the ballot on the Working Families Party (WFP) line and assuming that Miner qualifies for the ballot, this sets up a four-way race in November of Cuomo as the Democratic nominee, Nixon on the WFP line, Miner as an independent, and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro as the Republican nominee.

Could that somehow result in Cuomo losing the election? It seems very unlikely, especially if the following six things don’t happen:

(1). Nixon has to get her mojo back. Six weeks ago, Nixon was well on her way to 40%+ of the primary vote. That’s still achievable, but the Eric Schneiderman scandal knocked her off the front pages and she’s never really recovered. Nixon needs to at least beat Zephyr Teachout’s 2014 primary result (34%) to maintain any real support in November. While this week’s Siena poll showing Cuomo up by 35 points may not be that accurate of a measurement of where things will ultimately end up, it does show that Nixon has lost momentum. For a four way general election to be even remotely competitive, that has to change.

(2). The WFP would have to definitely run Nixon in November and really try to elect her. It seems like the WFP leadership is aggrieved enough with Cuomo to keep Nixon on the ballot and maybe even run a real campaign for her. But remember, this is New York politics – deals can always be cut and self-interest can always be preserved, no matter how unseemly.

(3). Miner has to generate some traction, which is very hard for a quixotic bid. If there are independents and moderate Democrats who don’t like Cuomo or Nixon or Molinaro, Miner could (theoretically) be a landing place for them. But people usually don’t like wasting their vote and it’s hard to see Miner having a hard core, built-in base the way Nixon does. But for sake of argument, if Miner could get 5% of the vote that would have otherwise gone to Cuomo, that matters.

(4). Molinaro has to be an exceptional candidate. It’s entirely unclear whether Molinaro is capable of that. He has to raise a ton of money (tens of millions of dollars), which is very difficult to do. And the Republican Governors Association (RGA) would have to play very heavily in the race, since there’s zero statewide infrastructure for Republicans to turn out votes (if Molinaro’s not ahead by 3-5 points going into election day, he’s not going to win). Given that there are 36 Governor’s races this fall, it’s unclear why the RGA would prioritize New York. Maybe the symbolism of winning New York is enough to matter, but it’s still hard to see our Governor’s race ever being a national GOP priority.

(5). Cuomo has to immolate. The corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros could help push an anti-Cuomo narrative along, but ultimately, Cuomo would have to do something so public and so odious that enough voters decide they just can’t live with him anymore. Given the vindictiveness of the Cuomo culture, a Bridgegate scandal would be the best bet here, but team Cuomo is likely smart enough to avoid that. So what else could do it? It’s unlikely anything happens in Albany between now and November that’s meaningful enough to move the needle. Cuomo could flub a crisis (a terrorist attack, a natural disaster), but he’s usually pretty good in those situations. His biggest vulnerability, as always, is his own personality. The minute he feels truly threatened by Nixon, he’s going to want to go hard negative on her. That might work but it could also really backfire (being seen as a bully in the age of #metoo). That’s why Nixon getting her momentum back is so critical – if she doesn’t, the odds of Cuomo blowing himself up are pretty low.

(6). The national trend has to not result in a blue wave. In a year where Democrats may win big everywhere, it’s unlikely that a Republican somehow bucks that trend here in New York. The detainee crisis suggests that maybe the White House doesn’t see the economy alone as enough of a basis to help them in November, but of course, whatever helps with the GOP base nationally only hurts with undecided voters here. With all that said, we live in a super weird, super unpredictable world so assuming that whatever’s the case today will be the case in a few months is always a dangerous assumption.

In other words, Miner’s entry makes an already fun and already interesting election a little more fun and a little more interesting. But absent a string of unlikely events all occurring at roughly the same time, the odds of seeing a different resident in the Governor’s mansion next year are still pretty low.

 

Bradley Tusk