I’ve been munching popcorn out here in the Empire State and watching next year’s gubernatorial race shape up for some time now. It’s been very entertaining in an electoral off year, with Governor David Paterson’s approval ratings cycling somewhere between dismal and “they’re just not that into you.” (He just ticked off a lot more Democrats by suspending fiscal support of ACORN.) The names and faces shift from week to week and rumors abound, but the same questions seem to keep popping up:
Will Paterson really seek a second term? (He says he will.)
Will Andrew Cuomo challenge him in a primary? (Andy has approval ratings in the mid-70’s but doesn’t want to go to war with a member of his own party who is also one of only two black governors in the nation.)
Will Rudy G. finally come off the bench and take a run for the GOP?
Will anyone ever remember who Rick Lazio is?
The story took on a new twist this weekend as word leaked out that President Obama sent a not so subtle message to the embattled New York Governor. “Time for you to get under the bus, pal.”
WASHINGTON — President Obama has sent a request to Gov. David A. Paterson that he withdraw from the New York governor’s race, fearing that Mr. Paterson cannot recover from his dismal political standing, according to two senior administration officials and a New York Democratic operative with direct knowledge of the situation.
The decision to ask Mr. Paterson to step aside was proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself, one of the administration officials said.
The Paper of Record refers to this as “an extraordinary intervention into a state political race by the president,” and it certainly caught me by surprise, but I’m not sure it’s entirely out of line. After all, the moment a person takes a seat in the Oval Office, they become, in effect, the titular head of their party, and the Democrats may have plenty to worry about in New York next year. Absent a major sea change, a Giuliani – Paterson matchup would be a bloodbath with the GOP taking back the governor’s mansion. And this is a state full of people who are some of the most heavily taxed in the nation, largely unemployed and watching the state budget slowly bleed out while our stimulus money was almost entirely wasted. If they suddenly took it into their heads to go out and vote for Rudy, might they start pulling a few other levers in the “R” column, particularly when Kirsten Gillibrand will be in hard scrabble fight to hang on to Hillary’s Senate seat for two more years? Plus, the Dems’ newly found hold on the state senate has a paper thin margin and a change of two seats next year would flip the chamber back to the GOP, who held it for decades.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a cake walk, even under the most optimistic Republican dream conditions. As I pointed out in a recent column at PMJ, Siena pollsters found that New Yorkers are down on the Democrats, but they’re not particularly in love with the GOP yet either. And there’s still Andrew Cuomo out there, waiting to land like a fly in the soup.
Obama is definitely using his top dog Democrat status to intrude on a state race, and a delicate minefield of a race to be sure. But given the unrest across the land over his fiscal and health care initiatives, the Democrats really need to avoid as many black eyes as possible. Losing traditionally blue New York to the Republicans would be an ominous sign, and one Obama would like his party to avoid.