NEW YORK (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged victorious but bruised from Tuesday’s Democratic primary, stung by a surprising 35 percent showing from a little-known law professor who galvanized liberal dissatisfaction with the governor’s centrist, business-friendly policies.
With the backing of heavyweights including Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo largely ignored the challenge from Fordham University professor Zephyr Teachout, never uttering her name, snubbing invitations to debate and turning away when she approached him at a recent parade.
But the 62-to-35-percent margin could be harder to ignore, especially since pundits had said anything over 20 percent could be seen as a rebuke to the governor from Democrats unhappy with Cuomo’s support of corporate tax policies and his decision to abruptly dismantle an anti-corruption commission.
“What we have done here is incredible.,” Teachout told her supporters in a Manhattan bar. “I will not be your next governor but the Democrats of this state have been heard.”
“Anything over 25 percent against an incumbent with 40 times as much money, one of the most famous names in politics, and a four year’s head start on me, I am really, really proud of what we did.”
Cuomo held no victory party Tuesday night, instead releasing a statement congratulating Teachout and her running mate, Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, for “engaging in the democratic process and having the courage to make their voices heard.”
PHOTOS: Challenger predicts win; Cuomo wants 51 percent
The governor faces Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, in the general election in November. Polls already show Cuomo with a 2-1 lead.
Political observers say they don’t expect Teachout’s strong showing to change that but it leaves the governor and his possible presidential ambitions in a weaker position going into what many had expected to be an easy election.
“I don’t see Astorino beating him but this has to hurt,” said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. “It takes away some of his aura of invulnerability.”
Cuomo had sought to dampen expectations earlier Tuesday, saying low-turnout primaries don’t always reflect public opinion. After voting at a Presbyterian church near his Westchester County home with his girlfriend, TV personality Sandra Lee, the governor was asked if he was aiming for a certain margin of victory.
“Fifty-one percent,” the governor said. “Fifty-one percent works.”
Cuomo’s running mate, former Buffalo congresswoman Kathy Hochul, also won Tuesday, beating Wu 60 percent to 40 percent with 94 percent of precincts reporting.
Cuomo had the support of big labor unions and a roster of top Democrats including Clinton, who recorded automated telephone messages for his campaign. He stressed his work to pass same-sex marriage and gun control while addressing government dysfunction and the economy.
Teachout’s candidacy began when she challenged Cuomo for the nomination of the Working Families Party, a coalition of labor unions and liberal activists. They endorsed Cuomo only after he promised to redouble efforts to pass liberal priorities including a higher minimum wage and public campaign financing.
With $35 million in Cuomo’s campaign coffers, he appears well positioned for a matchup with Astorino, who had $2.4 million in his account, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Rachelle Blidner in New York and Jim Fitzgerald in Mount Kisco contributed to this report.
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