Is the 2018 New York gubernatorial race already over?
The short answer is: Of course not.
Voters head to the polls in November, and a lot can happen between now and then.
We don’t know what scandals the new year will bring, or whether the government corruption trials that kick off later this month will inflict any lasting damage on Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The long answer is, as usual, more complicated.
Yes, Cuomo has some chinks in his armor.
Voters can see that his promises to clean up state government are hollow — that, if anything, Albany is just as corrupt and dysfunctional as it’s ever been. Downstate residents — the governor’s main base of support — have been frustrated by Cuomo’s poor stewardship of the subway system.
But will any of this matter this fall, when voters head to the polls?
I’m inclined to say no, in large part because defeating a powerful incumbent requires a formidable challenger, and I don’t see any on the horizon.
Cuomo might not be a beloved political leader, but he doesn’t need to be.
In a political landscape where beloved political leaders are as rare as unicorns, he can win his re-election bid without being overwhelmingly popular, or even especially well-liked.
According to a September Siena Research Institute poll, only 48 percent of voters said they would vote to re-elect Cuomo, while 44 percent said they would prefer someone else for governor.
These less-than-stellar numbers suggest that Cuomo is vulnerable, and that a credible opponent could defeat him.
But does such a person exist?
Every time I hear the name of a potential Republican candidate, it’s only a matter of time before they announce that they have no plans to run for governor.
Last week, both Westchester County businessman Harry Wilson and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said that they would not enter the race. In 2016, former U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, who I’ve always viewed as a strong candidate, said that he wouldn’t run.
If Cuomo was really as vulnerable as the polling data suggests, wouldn’t some of these people be eyeing his job?
To be fair, Cuomo does have challengers.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican from Canandaigua, is running for governor. Former Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra just announced that he’s running for governor. Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, has said he might run.
Whether any of these men can win over the downstate voters they’ll need to defeat Cuomo is a big question.
Personally, I have my doubts.
If there’s one thing Cuomo 2018 has going for it right now, it’s an air of inevitability — that he is too powerful and has too much money in his campaign war chest to be defeated.
An air of inevitability isn’t the same thing as being inevitable, and there’s time to puncture the governor’s air of inevitability. One wild card is the upcoming corruption trials, and whether voters find themselves turning away from Cuomo in disgust.
Voters haven’t shown much willingness to punish political incumbents over the corruption scandals that have roiled the state Capitol, and my sense is that this isn’t going to change any time soon.
But you never know.
Maybe Cuomo will find himself fighting for his political life.
In the meantime, the 2018 governor’s race is shaping up to be a major dud.
I wish it wasn’t so, but all signs point to an unexciting, even perfunctory, gubernatorial race.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.