Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo raced into the final stretch of his re-election bid Thursday with help from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton while Republican challenger Rob Astorino maintained their recent debate helped push momentum to his side.
The debate Wednesday night in Buffalo appeared unlikely to change the trajectory of the race, with Cuomo holding a huge lead in fundraising and in the polls. While Astorino repeated assertions that Cuomo is corrupt, the governor put Astorino on the defensive, accusing him of trying to discriminate against minorities by fighting a federal housing desegregation settlement.
"It was a very good tactic," said Harvey Schantz, a SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor. "Cuomo didn't get rattled. The best way to defend yourself is to attack your opponent because then the other guy has to defend himself and he gets off his own message."
The hourlong debate gave Astorino, the Westchester County executive, little time to make his case against Cuomo. He needed "a knockout punch, a grand slam, a Hail Mary," said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg.
"He had to try to get Cuomo to say or do something that would be a major issue for the final week, 10 days of the campaign, and he didn't get that," he said.
On Thursday morning, Clinton appeared at a Manhattan rally with Cuomo and his pick for lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul.
Loud chants of "2016! 2016!" greeted Clinton as she took the stage to a raucous reception, far louder than the cheers Cuomo received when she introduced him minutes later. Clinton, who lives in the New York City suburbs, was effusive in her praise for Cuomo, a longtime political ally who worked in her husband's presidential administration.
"There is no doubt the governor is the right leader at the right time with the right plan," Clinton said to the predominantly female crowd rallying under the banner of the Woman's Equality Party, a new political organization founded by Cuomo that will have a line on the fall ballot.
Clinton ticked off a series of Cuomo's accomplishments including marriage equality, gun control and the defense of abortion rights, while praising what she said were his pragmatic fiscal accomplishments.
Clinton is considered the presumptive front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to run. Cuomo has also been touted as a possible presidential candidate, though he's unlikely to make a bid if Clinton runs. He took the stage teasing Clinton's potential White House aspirations, saying, "I hope she does something really, really, really big."
Astorino made a pitch for donations during the debate and said Thursday that contributions increased overnight. He said he didn't know by how much but has more media buys planned in the last two weeks. He said he will use them in part to rebut lies Cuomo told about him in the debate and in his ads.
"Momentum is clearly on our side," Astorino told reporters in Albany.
He said Cuomo should apologize to the people of Westchester County (where Cuomo himself lives) for allegations of racism. The county is complying with the housing settlement, Astorino said, though he accused the federal government of trying to interfere with local zoning authority.