Can Cuomo win like Gillibrand, Schumer and Spitzer did?

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Mario Cuomo celebrates the election of his son, Andrew, as governor in 2010. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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Please see clarification on percentages at the end of this article. 

There’s little doubt, barring an indictment-type event, that Andrew Cuomo is going to prevail in November’s gubernatorial election.

The more interesting question is whether he’ll be able to beat Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino by a margin that is impressive by the standards of recent Democratic victories in New York.

Cuomo—who is widely believed to be interested in running for national office—will be hoping at a minimum to improve upon his performance in 2010.

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Certainly, some of his key political decisions have lined up with that desire.

Cuomo has strenuously avoided political behavior that can be labeled “Democratic,” the better to attract support from Republicans and independents to pile on top of support from his own party’s voters.

With that liberal support threatened by an insurgency on his left, Cuomo swung the other way, acceding to the demands of the unions that form the core of the Working Families Party to kill off a challenge from Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout. (Cuomo’s campaign attempted to block Teachout from the Democratic primary ballot, too.)

Meanwhile, the governor is lavishing resources and attention on Western New York, the one part of the state in which he performed poorly against Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino four years ago.

Cuomo, a Democrat with a famously Democratic surname, would likely be in a position to win handily this year even if he had made none of those decisions. New York, after all, is a very blue state. No Republican president has carried it since Ronald Reagan in 1984. George Pataki was the last Republican governor to win election, in 2002, and his term ended in 2006, when Eliot Spitzer was elected with 66 percent of the vote.

The last Republican senator from New York was Alfonse D’Amato, who lost in 1998 to Chuck Schumer, the same year the last Republican attorney general, Dennis Vacco, lost to Spitzer. The last Republican comptroller was Edward Regan, who resigned from office in 1993.

Since 2000, Democrats running at the top of the ticket for statewide and national office have won an average of around 60 percent of the vote in New York.

The high-water marks were Kirsten Gillibrand’s 68 percent in the 2012 Senate race, Spitzer’s 66 percent in 2006, and the 64 percent won by Schumer in 2004 and 2010 and Hillary Clinton in 2006.

The Democratic vote-shares in down-ballot statewide races over that same period have been smaller, averaging around 50 percent. Spitzer’s 2002 election to attorney general, when he won with 59 percent, was an outlier. Cuomo won his attorney general election with 53 percent in 2006 and Eric Schneiderman won in 2010 with 52 percent. Alan Hevesi won the comptroller’s race in 2002 with 45 percent and in 2006 with 50 percent of the vote, despite being investigated for ethics violations in the later election. Tom DiNapoli won the comptroller’s race in 2010 with 48 percent.

In what seems to have been a last hurrah for Republicans, George Pataki won re-election in 2002 with 48 percent.

As of this writing, Cuomo is polling in the mid-50s. That’s where his polling average was in 2010, when he ended up winning with 61 percent. If he wants to replicate what Gillibrand, Spitzer and Schumer managed to do statewide, it looks like he’s going to have to pick up the pace.

This article appeared in the September edition of Capital magazine.

CLARIFICATION: The percentages in this article reflect the number of votes the candidates received out of the total number of votes cast in the election, including "blanks" and "voids."

The candidates' totals are more often understood as a percentage of valid votes cast for candidates in their races, discarding blanks and voids. Those are the percentages more commonly cited in articles, including ones on this site.

For the sake of clarity, we've left the numbers in here from the original version of the article, which all use the total number of ballots cast, and which are therefore lower than the winning percentages commonly cited for each race.

The percentages in each of the elections cited here, calculated considering only valid votes cast for a candidate in those races, are as follows:

Obama 2012: 63%
Gillibrand 2012: 72%
Cuomo 2010: 62%
Gillibrand 2010: 63%
Schumer 2010: 66%
Obama 2008: 63%
Spitzer 2006: 70%
Hillary Clinton 2006: 67%
Kerry 2004: 58%
Schumer 2004: 71%
Gore 2000: 60%
Hillary Clinton 2000: 55%