With party conventions over and primary battles set, here is a look back at the 2014 state Democratic primary, and speculation about how things might play out in 2018

So we’re off to the races. The state party conventions are over and the line-ups are set.

The Republicans, Conservatives, Greens, and Reform parties have made their designations for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general, although the Reform Party’s nomination of Preet Bharara for attorney general still awaits Bharara’s decision about whether he will run. It doesn’t appear that there will be any primaries in those parties.

The Working Families Party also looks set except for attorney general, where they have chosen a “placeholder” candidate for attorney general but have given Letitia James and Zephyr Teachout Wilson-Pikula permission to enter their primary for the office. Beware of the crafty Working Families Party and their placeholder games, which cost a Democrat her election to the State Supreme Court in the 8th Judicial District in 2016.

The real action between now and September 13th will be with the Democrats. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will go unchallenged, but there will be primaries for governor (Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon); lieutenant governor (Kathy Hochul and Jumaane Williams); and attorney general (Letitia James, Leecia Eve and Zephyr Teachout).

The party endorsed candidates (Cuomo, Hochul and James) start off with the advantages of party support without the need for petitioning to get on the ballot. And, oh yeah, Cuomo has $30+ million in his campaign treasury.

Cuomo is the marquee candidate. With incumbency comes many advantages including a built-in army of supporters and countless press opportunities. But eight year of incumbency also brings disadvantages such as unresolved public issues like the subways in New York City and an anemic upstate economy, despite the tons of money poured into the regions north of the Bronx.

And then there are the scandals related to some of that economic development activity that have already led to the conviction of Cuomo’s close associate, Joseph Percoco, and two other guilty pleas. Another trial related to these scandals will occur next month.

Nixon claims that she has already prodded Cuomo to the left on a variety of positions, and there is something to that as Cuomo responds to pressures real and perceived. But if you listen to Nixon (she appeared recently on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC program) she talks in generalities and platitudes. She avoids questions about the details of governing. It’s not clear that she has any real interest in upstate New York.

Jumaane Williams, a councilman from Brooklyn and Nixon’s Working Families Party running mate for lieutenant governor, doesn’t have Nixon celebrity going for him and nothing in particular that makes him attractive as a statewide candidate. Kathy Hochul could outrun Cuomo’s vote totals in the primary.

The Democratic primary for attorney general has the potential to be the most exciting of the three statewide contests on September 13th. It is fair to say that there aren’t a thousand people north of the City who know anything about City Advocate Leticia James. In her sprint to get appointed as interim attorney general (which she later backed off on), James seemed to feel that just rounding up the votes of New York City members of the state legislature was enough to clear the field and give her the office. Not so fast.

Leecia Eve has the opportunity to offer a serious challenge in the primary. Her resume is stellar and she is well-informed about the politics of New York State. Her challenge is in putting together a statewide campaign and raising money, but she has some very experienced political hands from the Clinton camp helping her.

Zephyr Teachout did very well upstate in her 2010 primary race against Cuomo but got trounced in New York City. She also has to piece together a campaign and raise money.

What the 2014 Democratic primary tells us

It has been frequently noted that in the 2014 primary for governor Teachout did remarkably well for a newcomer, receiving 33 percent of the total vote. She ran very well in upstate New York, carrying 26 counties. But try as we upstaters often do to ignore New York City and its suburbs, there’s a lot of people living there. In 2014 they voted overwhelmingly for Cuomo. Overall, the Cuomo victory, by nearly a two-to-one margin statewide, was quite a rout for him. Here is a breakdown of the 2014 primary for governor:

North of Westchester   NYC and Suburbs          State

Cuomo         114,455                       246,925                       361,380

Teachout     82,440                          109,770                       192,210

Credico        9,029                          11,731                         20,760

Hochul’s 2014 numbers were impressive:

   North of Westchester     NYC and Suburbs         State

Hochul      119,262                    209,827                      329,089

Wu             79,163                      138,451                      217,614

If we drill down a bit more, the 2014 primary results in the eight Western New York counties indicate that adding Hochul to his ticket that year benefited Cuomo. The turnout in Erie County that year was 18.2 percent, and Cuomo benefited from that, carrying the county by a much wider margin than in the rest of upstate. Cuomo’s 2014 margin of victory in upstate was totally supplied by Erie County.

Erie Co.   Remainder of WNY  Upstate      State Total

Cuomo vote      42,310            8,244                         114,455               361,380

Hochul vote      44,003            9,078                         119,262               329,089

And while we’re looking at numbers, here is more data from 2014 indicating both vote totals and percentages of turnout:

North of Westchester  NYC and Suburbs  State

205,924 (12%)                368,426 (8.9%)      574,350 (9.8%)

There are currently 6.2 million registered Democrats eligible to vote in this year’s primary.

There is not really much reason to think that the vote total in the 2018 state Democratic primary will be much higher than it was four years ago; it could be less.

So what might these numbers mean for 2018?

Probably that the results for governor and lieutenant governor will be about the same as they were in 2014.

It’s still too early to know for sure, but it’s very possible that Cynthia Nixon turns out to be no Zephyr Teachout. It is practical for the Nixon camp to focus on New York City for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks, because “that’s where the money is.” If Nixon really believes that hers is not just a protest vote and she is out to win, then she needs to win, or come very close to doing so, in New York City. That is not going to happen.

When the turnout is as low as it is likely to be, the party leadership in the City, all in Cuomo’s corner, will deliver him a healthy margin of victory. Upstate, Nixon’s city-centric effort will produce fewer votes than Teachout received.

Look for Kathy Hochul to again run strong upstate, and particularly in Erie County and Western New York. She will, as his running-mate, make life a little easier for Cuomo’s upstate effort.

In the attorney general race, things will come down to whether or not Leecia Eve or Zephyr Teachout can make any serious inroads in the vote in New York City. The same party leaders who will be pushing for Cuomo and Hochul will be out in the City for James. Eve and Teachout might split the upstate vote, with Eve doing better north of the Hudson while Teachout carries the Hudson Valley.

There really isn’t room for two candidates whose prime voter base is north of New York City to compete in the race for attorney general and stand a chance against party-boss favored James in NYC. Petitions hit the streets next week, but they won’t be filed until July 12. Between now and then it is not inconceivable that the race for AG might narrow down to either Eve or Teachout versus James.

At least there will be something interesting for us political junkies to watch.

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