The 2022 primary race(s) for governor

With the Democratic Committee Convention over and the Republicans about to run their meeting at the beginning of next week things are getting serious in the race for governor of New York.

The 2022 state elections will have a fresh look.  Going back to 1978, when Mario Cuomo ran for Lt. Governor, there has been a Cuomo on the statewide ballot for ten of the previous eleven elections.

Governor Kathy Hochul will be on the state ballot this year for the third time.  It will be the fifth time for Senator Charles Schumer, the fourth time for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and the second time for Attorney General Leticia James.  Even with Cuomo out of the picture that’s amazing continuity in politics.

It is different for the Republicans.  George Pataki was the last member of the party to be elected statewide, in 2002.  The last time the state elected a Republican United States Senator was in 1992 when Al D’Amato won.  The last Republican elected Attorney General was Buffalo Attorney Dennis Vacco in 1994.  The last Republican elected Comptroller was the late Ned Regan, who also hailed from Buffalo, in 1990.

There will be a Democratic primary for governor this year.  The party’s nominee, Hochul, will be challenged by Congressman Tom Suozzi and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.  There will probably also be a primary for Lt. Governor.  The party nominee is incumbent Brian Benjamin.  Suozzi is promoting former Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna as his choice for Lt. Governor.  Williams has not identified a preferred candidate for the office.

Republicans have long settled on Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin as their “presumptive” gubernatorial candidate.  The party’s candidate for governor in 2014, Rob Astorino, and Trump golf partner Andrew Guiliani could contest in a primary.  A primary might actually do some good for Zeldin by helping with his poor name recognition, but then again the Republican establishment doesn’t do well with primaries (see Paladino for Governor, 2010; Healy-Case for Erie County Sheriff, 2021).  The rest of the Republican ticket is anyone’s guess at this point.

Here are some past statewide election results involving the candidates who are running in 2022:

  • Hochul defeated Williams in the 2018 primary for Lt. Governor by a margin of 6.8 percent.  She collected 768,029 votes that year to Williams’ 669,068.
  • Hochul defeated Timothy Wu in the 2014 primary for Lt. Governor by a margin of 20.4 percent.  Turnout that year was substantially less than in 2018.
  • Suozzi was defeated by Elliott Spitzer in the Democratic primary for Governor in 2006, receiving just 18.1 percent of the vote.

While we are looking at numbers, here are the total turnouts for governor in previous primaries:

  • 2002 – Carl McCall versus Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for governor – 633,078 votes cast
  • 2006 – Elliott Spitzer versus Tom Suozzi in the Democratic primary for governor – 762,947 votes
  • 2010 – Carl Paladino versus Rick Lazio in the Republican primary for governor – 479,684 votes
  • 2014 – Cuomo versus Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic primary for governor – 574,350 votes
  • 2018 – Cuomo versus Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary for governor – 1,558,352 votes

So much for history lessons, but where do things stand now, with about 126 days until the June 28th primary elections?  Some observations:

  • In terms of financial resources for the campaign here were the reported campaign treasuries as of January 14th:
    • Hochul — $21,337,928
    • Suozzi — $5,254,456
    • Williams — $189,221
    • Zeldin — $5,622,103
    • Astorino — $1,300,693
    • Guiliani — $188,410
    • Benjamin — $1,528,085
  • We will not see an update of campaign financials until May 27.
  • Hochul has held a substantial lead in polling for the Democratic primary.  A Siena College poll conducted last month had her at 46 percent; Williams 11 percent; Suozzi 6 percent.
  • The state Democratic Party establishment is solidly behind Hochul.  She received 85.5 percent of the vote at the nominating convention.  That support will help get-out-the-vote efforts throughout the state.
  • Suozzi and Williams will need to secure at least 15,000 valid signatures on petitions, spread out among at least 13 of the state’s 26 congressional districts.  That is a serious challenge but one that both have navigated in previous statewide runs.  A petitioning process can also serve as a useful campaign activity.
  • Williams will undoubtedly look to the primary election results of the two previous progressive candidates for governor, Zephyr Teachout in 2014 and Cynthia Nixon in 2018.  Teachout’s share of the vote was 33.4 percent and she won 25 counties; Nixon received 34.4 percent, carrying 13 counties.
  • Although there have not been any publicly announced polling results for the Republicans, Zeldin’s support among the party’s establishment and the size of his campaign account should carry the day if a primary develops.

All and all, Kathy Hochul is in a strong position to win the primary given her cash differential, polling leads, and the power of incumbency that allows her to create positive news on a daily basis as governor.  It will be noted that Williams ran a strong race against Hochul in the Lt. Governor primary four years ago, but that should come with a footnote:  Democrats who had a bone to pick with Andrew Cuomo but were not prepared to vote against him in that year’s primary had the opportunity to cast a protest vote against Cuomo by voting for Williams.

Hochul must continue on a daily basis to manage the state’s Covid activities and to get her proposed new state budget through the Legislature.  Both of those projects often come with unidentifiable speed bumps that can derail the best of plans.  She is well prepared to handle such things.

It has been an amazing ride thus far for Hochul, the first woman governor in New York State and the first person in the governor’s office from Western New York in 138 years.  Next up:  the primary.

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