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May 29, 2014 9:20 AM As Goes New York, So Goes the Nation

By Martin Longman

Alec MacGillis helpfully explains that:

…New York is one of only a handful [of states] in the country with “fusion” laws that allow a candidate to appear on the ballot on the line of more than one political party. This means that a third party can seek to influence one of the two major parties by putting a major-party candidate on its own line, in exchange for some leverage over his or her platform, instead of always just running its own long-shot candidate and potentially playing a spoiler role.

New York’s “fusion ballot” is creating a very interesting situation. Governor Andrew Cuomo is seeking the endorsement of the Working Families Party, but the WFP is demanding that Cuomo throw his weight behind a bill to create public financing of campaigns. In response, Cuomo is using a small group of Quisling Democratic state senators who caucus with the Republicans (thereby giving them control of the upper chamber) to extort support of the campaign financing law from the state’s GOP.

Markos Moulitsas asks:

Why hasn’t Cuomo already been actively campaigning for Senate Democrats and working to reunite the fractured Senate Democratic caucus? Why? Because that Republican-controlled Senate has suited his purposes nicely. He never has to worry about signing or vetoing genuinely progressive legislation. And because Senate Republicans know they exist at the whim of the governor, he has a lever to use against them whenever he actually wants something to pass.

Moulitsas’s observation is the common wisdom. It is generally thought that Governor Cuomo prefers to have the Republicans in control of the Senate because it allows him to protect his record as a “moderate” Democrat and helps him position himself for a presidential run. Of course, his presidential ambitions are currently blocked by another New Yorker named Hillary Clinton. Clinton may also feel that moderation from New York’s legislature benefits her presidential ambitions. Whether that is true or not, it certainly helps in attracting support from Wall Street.

It’s hardly surprising that Cuomo is being rewarded with big checks from Wall Street and the rest of New York’s business establishment60 percent of his campaign contributions have come in checks $10,000 or larger, while less than one percent has come in donations $250 or belowrates that make even George Pataki, the business-friendly former Republican governor, look like a populist by comparison. Cuomo’s even getting backing from major Republican donors like Ken Langone, the former Home Depot who recently compared liberal worries about income inequality to rhetoric in Nazi Germany.

All of this has been hard to stomach for the WFP, which has been  hinting that it might nominate its own candidate for governor at its convention this weekend.

Cuomo can probably win reelection without the endorsement of the Working Families Party, but losing their endorsement would cut into his margin of victory and make him look less appealing as candidate for president.

This might seem like a mere factional kerfuffle, except that the WFP is showing considerable sway in polling on the governor’s race. Two surveys from respected pollsters have shown a Candidate X from the WFP polling above 20 percent. In the most recent one, by Quinnipiac, Cuomo’s vote share plummets from 57 percent to 37 percent if there is a separate WFP challenger in the mix. He still leads Republican candidate Rob Astorino, who is stuck in the 20s in both scenarios, but not by nearly the overwhelming margin he would want to have if he was going to run for president should Hillary Clinton decide not to.

So, to avoid this scenario, Governor Cuomo is doing the bidding of the WFP and getting behind the effort to pass a public financing of campaigns bill.

Gov. Cuomo will work to toss the Senate Republicans from power by reuniting the chamber’s fractured Democrats if the GOP does not agree to create a statewide public financing system for campaigns, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

But this isn’t the end of the intrigue. Liberal Activist Bill Samuel is threatening to run for Lieutenant Governor against Cuomo’s hand-picked choice of ex-Rep. Kathy Hochul. David Nir explains the potential complications:

In New York, the lieutenant governor is nominated separately from the governor, but the two run together on a single ticket in the fall in a so-called “shotgun marriage” arrangement. And Samuels, who earlier this year said Cuomo should seek re-election as a Republican, would make a very awkward spouse for the incumbent.

While Cuomo would obviously go all-out for Hochul, Samuels would have much greater appeal to voters in a Democratic primary than the conservative Hochul, who’s already been trying to walk back her anti-immigration views and still has giant flashing neon “A” rating from the NRA to deal with. What’s more, Hochul’s from Buffalo whereas Samuels is from New York City, where most primary votes are cast, so a Samuels victory would not be out of the question.

And if he were to win, it would create a terrible complication for Cuomo. He and Hochul have already been nominated by the Independence Party, a mostly fake organization that typically sells its appealingly named ballot line to the highest bidder.

But under New York’s fusion voting system, ballots cast for a Cuomo/Samuels ticket on the Democratic line could not be consolidated with those cast for Cuomo/Hochul on the Independence line, meaning Cuomo would have to spurn the IP (and Hochul) and encourage people to vote for him as a Democrat. That in turn could lead to the IP failing to get the 50,000 votes it would need to stay on the ballot for the next four years, a nifty bit of collateral damage.

This last bit appears to matter little outside of New York State, but it creates a giant headache for the governor. It’s also complicated by the fact that the progressive mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, has thrown his weight behind Kathy Hochul’s candidacy.

These are interesting times.

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