Democrat Andrew Cuomo easily defeated Republican challenger Marc Molinaro on Tuesday to win a third term and an opportunity to create a legacy as one of New York’s longest-serving and most dominant governors.
Cuomo had sought to portray his opponent, the county executive of Dutchess County, as an extreme conservative and repeatedly mocked him as a “Trump Mini-me.” It was a successful tactic in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1 and where the president remains largely unpopular.
He offered relatively few new proposals for a third term, instead touting his work to rebuild bridges and airports, lower taxes, increase the minimum wage, jumpstart the upstate economy and take on Albany’s reputation for dysfunction. He also vowed to continue his work to push back against Washington.
“The president’s calculus is wrong,” Cuomo told supporters at his election night party in Manhattan. “Today’s election made clear that New York is not buying what President Trump is selling. We know his type too well … He uses fear and division to separate Americans. He preaches that diversity is the enemy … But we don’t fear diversity we celebrate diversity.”
Cuomo is the 10th governor in New York to secure a third term, joining the likes of DeWitt Clinton, Al Smith, Nelson Rockefeller, George Pataki and his own father, the late Mario Cuomo. He had been considered a likely presidential contender in 2020 until he vowed this year to serve an entire four years if re-elected.
Third terms proved difficult for former governors as staff turns over, critics grow bolder and voters become fatigued. New York City’s antiquated subway system, in need of billions of dollars in upgrades, is likely to pose a significant challenge. Other issues looming for the governor include proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, continuing struggles for the upstate economy, a dearth of affordable housing and a divisive political climate that has exposed fault lines between liberals and moderates within his own party.
Cuomo significantly out-fundraised Molinaro and had more than 40 times his rival’s financial resources in the homestretch of the campaign. Throughout the race he maintained a more than 20 percentage point lead in the polls, which found that Molinaro remained largely unknown to many voters.
Molinaro, who has said he didn’t vote for Trump, tried unsuccessfully to focus the race on Cuomo’s eight years as governor, arguing the governor had failed to address rampant political corruption, New York City’s aging subways or the upstate economy. He also vowed to work with both parties and eschew Cuomo’s often hard-charging brand of governing. But his campaign struggled to broadcast his message in a contentious midterm election in which national politics dominated.
“At the end of the day, when we put aside our differences to work honestly and earnestly toward solving problems, we can absolutely overcome any challenge,” he said.
As he did during his primary battle with former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo campaigned as a pragmatic leader who values action over rhetoric. He touted his administration’s work to overhaul airports and train stations in New York City, build a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge and pass gun control, a higher minimum wage, same-sex marriage and income tax cuts.
Three third-party candidates placed far behind Cuomo and Molinaro in Tuesday’s voting: Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, independent Stephanie Miner and Libertarian Larry Sharpe.
Cuomo’s victory means that Kathy Hochul was elected to a second term as the state’s lieutenant governor. In New York candidates for the job of the state’s No. 2 executive run alongside candidates for governor. Hochul is a former Congresswoman from Buffalo who replaced former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy as Cuomo’s running mate four years ago.
Associated Press Writer Sabrina Caserta contributed to this report.