The frame: Cuomo versus the party of Ryan and Boehner
HUNTINGTON—In 2010, Andrew Cuomo ran against Albany.
In 2014, at his party's state convention and with a re-election campaign in deep-blue New York to worry about, Cuomo issued a war cry against Washington Republicans.
“While New York is on the move and making progress, Washington is sinking deeper into dysfunction," said the narrator of a convention-opening promotional video featuring Cuomo's accomplishments. "A new brand of Republican is dominating their party: ultra-conservative, inflexible, intolerant. In 2014, the stakes couldn't be higher. The bitter battles of Washington are now spilling to states across the country. Ultra-conservative Republicans have taken control of their party, and they want to use this election to push New York away from our core values.”
During the gathering at the Hilton Long Island, the party framed the election not as a direct contrast between the incumbent and his challenger, but between Cuomo's Albany and Washington, where Republican clashes with Barack Obama led to a federal government shutdown, pushes to restrict abortion rights and opposition to items that have passed in New York.
In so doing, Cuomo—who will accept his nomination in a Thursday morning speech—will be able to continue to avoid directly acknowledging Astorino, who according to a poll released Wednesday is unknown to three quarters of the state's electorate.
It also allows Cuomo to tout his record on progressive measures like the passage of same-sex marriage and a minimum wage increase and stricter gun controls without disparaging Republicans in the State Senate who voted with him, and whose influence in the chamber Cuomo is in no rush to upend.
The Democratic State Committee previewed this message last week when they released an ad comparing Astorino to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney's running mate, and House Speaker John Boehner.
One of the convention's most riveting speeches came from Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He thanked Cuomo for introducing and signing the SAFE Act, which broadened the definition of banned assault weapons, increased the reporting duty of mental health providers, mandated all gun sales be performed with a background check and banned magazines capable of holding more than ten bullets.
“How many mass shootings … do we have to live through before we do something?” He said. “No parent should have to go through this. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is not about politics. This is about public safety. Governor Cuomo succeeded where Washington failed, and the families of New York are safer for it.”
Cuomo's running mate, former congresswoman Kathy Hochul, garnered national headlines when she won a 2011 special election that turned on her opposition to the Ryan-backed budget. (She was defeated a year later, mostly the victim of enrollment in her suburban Buffalo district.)
Former governor David Paterson said today's Republicans have nothing in common with the moderate icons from New York's recent history, like Sen. Jacob Javits or Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick told the story of his childhood in poverty, and said his ascent through college was made possible for federal programs like school lunches and Pell grants pushed by Democrats.
“So many people who are Democrats on the national level who come out and vote for Democratic presidential nominees stay home in state elections. So we're trying to make the case that we're Democrats, we're in this together,” Myrick said.
Orange County Democratic chairman Jonathan Jacobson said this provided a “clearer contrast in message” but said it was appropriate because the Republican ticket opposes a Cuomo-backed abortion bill, the SAFE Act and another measure that would open state tuition assistance programs to undocumented immigrants.
“You could say it's national, but it's just our values,” Jacobson said.
But if any of this doubles as a boost to Cuomo in the event he ever makes a national run, well, fine.
“The more cynical read is that this is Cuomo trying to burnish his brand for national office—to have him and the party he is the standard bearer of in New York to be seen in the same light on issues that stir Democrats all over the country,” said Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “A less cynical way to look at it is that New York is one of the biggest states, the biggest tents, that has people with an enormous range of views. How can you avoid national issues when you're campaigning statewide?”