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Op-ed: Molinaro faces a tougher challenge than Pataki

Op-ed: Molinaro faces a tougher challenge than Pataki

A Republican hasn’t won a contest for statewide office since 2002, the last time Pataki ran
Op-ed: Molinaro faces a tougher challenge than Pataki
Marc Molinaro, left, and George Pataki

Although some might beg to differ, there are more important things going on than the daily diversion of the Twitter storm fulminating from the White House.

For one, do you know Marc Molinaro?

If not, that’s a problem – mostly for him. And it’s not his only one.

There are some striking similarities between this year’s gubernatorial election and that of 1994.

For one thing, the name “Cuomo” is attached to both of them.

Mario Cuomo sought a fourth term 24 years ago; his son, Andrew, is pursuing a third term this year.  

There were signs then – mostly ignored by “learned” analysts — that the electorate was primed for a change; just as there are indications this year that significant categories of voters have grown disdainful of the current governor’s motivations, methods or principles.

In 1994, the governor was a powerful figure blessed with all the advantages of incumbency. The Republican challenger — George Pataki — was a relative unknown from a Hudson Valley county.

The same is true in 2018.

So, who is Marcus Molinaro, the Republican Party nominee for governor?  

Since 2012, he has been the county executive of Dutchess County, which is situated halfway between Albany and New York City. Prior to this, he served five years in the Dutchess County Legislature and was elected to two terms in the state Assembly.  

He began his career in 1995, elected at age 18 to the Tivoli village Board of Trustees. One year later, he became the youngest mayor in the U.S. and was re-elected five times.

Perhaps somewhat ironic now, the current Gov. Cuomo appointed him to the Governor’s Mandate Relief Redesign Team in 2011. (Mandated spending — the state’s practice of requiring local government to fund programs for which the state provides no or less than full revenue — is a longstanding major local government complaint with Albany.)

Molinaro also is the second vice-president of the New York State Association of Counties.

The Republican is a lifelong resident of the region with a working class backstory – raised by a single mother in a family that relied at times on food stamps and other government assistance programs. He attended community college and, having an autistic child, is supportive to those with special needs. His views on certain key issues – education, reproductive rights, environmental protection, public corruption and accountability – are that of a Republican moderate, essential to being electable statewide in New York.

Handicapping the Stakes

Even though Democrats hold a nearly 5:2 advantage in state major party enrollment, Cynthia Nixon’s conspicuous primary challenge to Cuomo reveals a growing fissure between the party establishment and its sizeable and increasingly assertive progressive wing.  

Furthermore, at times, the state’s Democratic voters have shown willingness to ticket split, opening a path to victory for the “right” Republican — and even in the city of New York, where that enrollment gap is closer to 9:1.

With all this in mind, Molinaro would seem personally well positioned and hold at least a puncher’s chance for victory.

Tougher Road than Pataki

However, in reality the odds for him are much longer than they were in 1994.

A Republican hasn’t won a contest for statewide office since 2002, the last time Pataki ran.

Apart from significant ticket splitting, in order to win, a Republican also needs Democratic voters to underrepresent themselves at the polls, especially in New York City.

While that’s not an unusual occurrence, this is not the year to expect it to take place again

Unlike 1994 (and 2016), Democrats appear to be anything but complacent.

By all accounts, the phenomenon that is Donald J. Trump has recommitted Democrats to the act of voting, if only in protest.

Even if the too-often-predicted “blue wave” doesn’t happen nationally, it likely will here simply by virtue of the raw numbers and the evident strength of that motivation.  

Simply put, if they come out and vote as anticipated, Democrats in New York have a right to expect to secure a clean sweep of all three statewide offices and both houses of the Legislature — and some Republican seats in Congress, as well.

Democratic disdain for Trump is so profound that even Molinaro, a lifelong politician, will find it impossible to divine any fine line between the president’s doctrinaire supporters and his equally resolute detractors.

All else will fade to insignificance.

But — as 1994 and 2016 have taught us — never say never. Right?

John Figliozzi is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

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