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Foss: Primary election feels like missed opportunity

Foss: Primary election feels like missed opportunity

Foss: Primary election feels like missed opportunity
Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon shake hands ahead of the Democratic gubernatorial primary debate in Hempstead, N.Y., Aug. 29.
Photographer: J. Conrad Williams Jr./Pool via The New York Times

It might seem difficult to remember, but this year's election cycle had the potential to be exciting and engaging. 

Instead, it feels like a long slog to the inevitable: The re-election of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, despite scandals and missteps and a campaign that offered little in the way of new ideas. 

It could have been different. 

Cuomo and his Democratic primary challenger, actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, could have brought real energy to their campaigns, with an eye toward inspiring voters hungry for new ideas. 

They could have engaged and inspired an electorate unusually restless and eager for change, as Democratic primary upsets throughout the country can attest. These upsets suggest that change is afoot, and yet the Democratic race for New York governor remains as dull and one-sided as ever. 

Nixon has tried to harness some of the same energy as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex, the former Bernie Sanders organizer who unseated longtime U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's 114th Congressional District earlier this year. 

But it's been an uphill battle, and it's worth asking why. 

Why hasn't Nixon gained more traction with voters?

Polls don't always get it right, but the latest Siena College Research Institute poll, released Monday, suggests that Cuomo will likely wallop Nixon. The governor increased his lead over Nixon by 41 points, and while the final outcome might be closer than the polls suggest, she's unlikely to overcome those long odds. 

When the votes are tallied, those of us hoping for a real race are going to be disappointed. 

The ingredients for a real race -- a restless electorate, a governor unpopular with the left -- are there. 

But Nixon simply hasn't been able to present herself as a viable alternative to primary voters. 

Downstate voters, where her energy has been focused, appear unlikely to reject Cuomo. Upstate voters aren't exactly fired up and ready to march to the polls en masse to support Nixon. 

Nixon will probably do well with upstate voters, just as attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout did four year ago. But that says more about how upstate voters view Cuomo than how they view Nixon. 

In my travels and interactions with people, I see little evidence of a groundswell of support for Nixon,. I don't see lawn signs or other public displays of support, and I don't, by and large, hear people talking about her. 

I don't see or hear a lot of enthusiasm for Cuomo, either. 

In these last weeks of the campaign, there's been little to excite voters, especially upstate. 

The sole debate between Nixon and Cuomo, at Hofstra University, was heavy on barbs and insults and short on substantive policy prescriptions on important statewide issues, like government corruption and healthcare. 

This trend has continued as both candidates make their final case to the public. 

Instead of substance, voters are getting treated to an earful about the botched opening of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, which was delayed amid safety concerns about the neighboring Tappan Zee Bridge, and questions about a flier, mailed to Jewish New Yorkers, that accused Nixon of being anti-Semitic. 

Listening to it all, I can't help but wonder how a race that had the potential to actually be about something turned into much ado about nothing. 

The whole thing feels like a major missed opportunity, if you ask me. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.   


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