Cuomo’s next act

cuomos-next-act
Andrew Cuomo. (Governor Andrew Cuomo)
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ALBANY—Andrew Cuomo is about to demonstrate whether it's possible for a politician to run up the score by playing defense.

To set up the comprehensive, nationally noticeable re-election victory he's looking for in 2014, Cuomo is going to have to secure support upstate. He'll start, most likely, by working his way back to the middle during his State of the State presentation Wednesday, after delivering a decisively liberal message last year. 

But thanks in part to the base-emboldening election of his longtime associate Bill de Blasio in New York City, Cuomo will have to work to generate enthusiasm among liberal voters downstate, too. That will mean several gestures to the left, most prominently a pilot program for medicinal marijuana that he said he will implement administratively.

Cuomo's core message will be about jobs, jobs, jobs (always in triplicate): an update on the START-UP New York program, new international recruitment efforts and, perhaps, more details on plans to site casinos. In events this week, Cuomo also unveiled plans for a major rebuilding effort related to Superstorm Sandy and a multi-year package of tax cuts aimed at shrinking government.

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Cuomo does not share de Blasio's tax-the-rich-and-spend economic philosophy, which New York City voters have embraced. He can't, experts say, if his aim to dominate statewide.

“The electorate in New York State is in the middle ideologically, and the proof of the pudding is that in the last gubernatorial election 70 percent of the vote came from outside New York City,” said Bruce Gyory, a political consultant, professor and adviser to previous governors. “You have a much slighter Democratic registration advantage there and both the Democrats and Independents who drive electoral outcomes upstate and in the suburbs are more fiscally conservative. For Cuomo to win, much less win big, he needs to keep the support of those voters.”

Hence the political hybrid Blake Zeff has dubbed “Cuomo liberalism”—expression of Democratic ideals through stances on social issues that won't offend the business community or major editorial boards. Medicinal marijuana is a classic example, and as a bonus has stratospheric support in the polls. With his embrace, Cuomo will effectively stave off calls for broader marijuana legalization.

Most telling in the speech will be how Cuomo deals with stickier issues like a system of public campaign finance, giving undocumented immigrants access to tuition assistance programs and pre-K expansion, on which is trying to figure out a way to succeed without allowing a de Blasio-backed tax hike, and on which he won't, yet, go into detail.

This one won't be easy. Even for Andrew Cuomo.