The minor parties’ shuffles will make the race for Governor more interesting, but it’s not likely to change the expected results in November

The names of the candidates for Governor of New York in 2018 are pretty well set. Now it’s time for a process that can best be described as “minor party musical chairs.”

Yes, there will be a Democratic Party primary for governor and lieutenant governor, with actress Cynthia Nixon and New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams challenging Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul. Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has created a financial committee, Miner for NY, but the purpose of the filing is unknown at this point. She had previously been considering a challenge to Cuomo, a former ally.

The activity this past weekend, as reported in the Buffalo News, suggesting that the Cuomo team might want Hochul off the statewide ballot is mystifying. She has been a loyal and hardworking Lieutenant. Yes, Kathy would certainly give Chris Collins a better race in the 27th Congressional District than Nate McMurray will, but that discussion is past its “sell by” date.

What difference does it make that Williams will be on the Working Families line in November? And is team Cuomo really concerned about the possibility of a city councilman from Brooklyn, unknown outside of the borough, winning the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor?

Four years ago Fordham University Law Professor Zephyr Teachout, in her first run for public office, collected 33 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary against Cuomo. She carried twenty-six of the 57 counties outside of New York City. Nixon supporters, given her celebrity, are looking to expand on Teachout’s vote total. That is not likely.

Nixon’s campaign does not, at this early stage, seem to be catching on. Her efforts thus far have been mostly New York City centered. She reportedly characterized “upstate” as starting somewhere in the proximity of Ithaca.

Andrew Cuomo learned some lessons from the 2014 campaign, beginning with a need, in his estimation, to move politically to the left. Efforts included an increase in the state’s minimum wage; the program he describes as “free tuition;” and the re-unification of the Democratic Caucus in the State Senate have been designed to make it easier to fend off a challenge from the left wing of the party.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio of New York fancies himself as a leader of the progressive portion of the Democratic Party. He is often at loggerheads with Cuomo. How DeBlasio handles the Democratic primary for governor will be interesting.

Independent former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is signaling that he will not be involved in Nixon’s campaign. Watch for him to waffle on that position over the next several months as his progressive supporters in the state press him to join the Nixon effort.

The Republican Party moved past several potential candidates before settling on Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro. His last remaining opponent, State Senator John DeFrancisco, will drop out after the Republican State Convention next month.

New York being New York, campaigns don’t all get sorted out after the Democrats and Republicans hone in on their candidates. That’s because New York is a “fusion party state” that makes it relatively easy for new parties to spring up and often hang around for a quite a while. They often affiliate themselves with the Democrats or the Republicans. For point of reference I refer you to the first post published on this blog three years ago, “New York – What a great state for a party!”

Parties have come and gone over the years. There once was a Liberal Party and a Right-to-Life Party. The state’s Conservative Party, founded in 1962 to challenge Nelson Rockefeller, is the oldest of the state’s current roster of six minor parties. The Conservatives hold the coveted third spot on the ballot at the moment based on their party vote for governor in 2014.

The Conservatives have all but officially endorsed Molinaro as their candidate this year, a choice that will be ratified in May.

In 2014 the Working Families Party, after much maneuvering, supported Andrew Cuomo but this year the party will give their ballot line right through the November election to Cynthia Nixon.   Unions that have played a major role in organizing and running the party have backed away and have indicated that they will attempt to form a new labor-oriented party that will support Cuomo in 2018.

Cuomo’s allies in 2014 created the Women’s Equality Party to give him an additional line on the ballot. There are all of 4,675 registered members of that party statewide.

In 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino created the Stop Common Core Party for another line on the ballot. The party barely made it over the 50,000 vote threshold to give it automatic ballot status for four years. The powers-to-be in the party, mostly Astorino staffers, decided after 2014 that “Stop Common Core” wasn’t going to get them anywhere, so they morphed into the Reform Party, which presently has 1,882 registered voters.

Having been shut out from his adopted party, the Republicans, former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra has gravitated to the Reform Party to gain entry into the 2018 gubernatorial sweepstakes. He seems intent on using the campaign to promote the efforts of his former lobbying clients who are looking to legalize non-medical marijuana.

The Green Party gained the fourth line on the ballot based on their 2014 vote for Howie Hawkins for governor. He’s running again this year.

So here’s the potential lineup for governor in 2018:

  • Democrats – Andrew Cuomo versus Cynthia Nixon in a September primary
  • Republicans – Marcus Molinaro
  • Conservatives – Molinaro
  • Green – Howie Hawkins
  • Working Families – Nixon
  • Independence – to be determined
  • Women’s Equality – Cuomo, if the party determines to be active this year
  • Reform – Joel Giambra
  • A new labor-oriented party – Cuomo
  • And perhaps others. There were a total of ten parties contesting the 2014 election.

So what does it all mean?

Well, maybe something. Likely, probably nothing.

As the incumbent, Andrew Cuomo comes into the race with lots of positives and negatives. The positives include his nearly eight years in the office, with all the power and influence that incumbency carries; $30+ million in his campaign treasury; and popular positions that will attract the Democratic base.

Negatives include his nearly eight years in the office, with all the baggage that incumbency carries; public corruption trials involving associates close to the governor, including most particularly former aide Joseph Percoco, who was recently convicted on bribery charges; and assorted issues like the problems of the New York City subway system and economic development efforts that have spent tons of money upstate while producing negligible results.

Look for Nixon to draw 30 to 35 percent of the primary vote, which will total less than the 574,350 Democrats who voted in 2014. She may come across like the late Mayor of New York, Ed Koch, who failed to catch on in upstate in 1982 despite the support of many party regulars.

Nixon will carry on to November on the Working Families Party line. She will help divide up the anti-Cuomo vote with Joel Giambra. Neither will get very far.

The Republicans, of course, will gleefully watch all of those goings on, hoping that Nixon and Giambra will draw off enough votes from Cuomo to make Molinaro viable. That all presupposes that Molinaro is a great candidate without any negatives packed into his campaign. But that is not so.

Molinaro is 42 years old. He has been in one elective office or another since he was 18 years old, the definition of a career politician. He has accomplished nothing of note in those 24 years.

Molinaro will have issues to exploit, but little money. He will have two credible party lines in November, but the Republicans statewide have an anemic organization that has faded badly under the chairmanship of Ed Cox. The party has not won a statewide office since 2002. It lost several key county elections last year. It is on the verge of losing control of the State Senate.

Most importantly, Molinaro and whoever turns out to be his statewide running mate will be swimming against a powerful Democratic tide in the bluest of blue states in 2018.

It’s only April, but this election is all but over except for the shouting. Where Cuomo takes that into a third term is anyone’s guess.

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