There are over 40 credible names. It’s over two years away. But as the line forms to run against Trump in 2020, there’s a fascinating sub-plot involving two New Yorkers that is emerging.
Governor Andrew Cuomo? Senator Kristen Gillibrand? The race is on.
As a candidate, Cuomo brings significant old virtues. He raises a lot of money. He’s a sitting governor with a string of accomplishments that appeal to the Democratic base (free college tuition, gun laws, gay marriage, etc.). Most of labor loves him. He looks like an executive, in the olden sense. He works hard and speaks well.
Gillibrand brings significant new virtues. She’s an effective senator. She speaks well and works hard. She looks like an executive, in the modern sense. Women are pushing for one of their own as the candidate. She’s seized on the dominant issue of the day, systematic and unpunished abuse of women in the workplace and elsewhere.
Cuomo has shortcomings. He’s fierce and difficult and short on goodwill within New York. Top aides are about to be tried for corruption. His economic record is spotty from a progressive viewpoint, good on minimum wage, bad on corporate giveaways.
Gillibrand has shortcomings. She’s new and unknown to voters nationally. Her fundraising chops have never been tested. Her economic record is unclear other than being a reliable member of the Democratic opposition.
The initial curiosity about the parallel candidacies focuses on who will emerge as the New York candidate. That’s a little misplaced. Cuomo controls the party apparatus. Gillibrand has an edge with voters. But there’s no reason that two New Yorkers can’t run. It happened to Republicans in Florida when Bush and Rubio contended and everyone survived.
So it will be up to voters. Again, we are a long way from crunch time. If the presidential race were to be in 2018, Gillibrand has a real advantage. Voters are moving toward candidates who personify their revulsion about sexual assault, and that is the senator. She has, for now, an uncanny political dynamic similar to Barack Obama at the early stage. He took his personae and one issue, the Iraq War, and rode to victory against Hillary the establishment stalwart. She could easily do the same.
Cuomo will have to show patience, not his strong suit. He needs to get by the trials and a potentially messy re-election campaign. He needs to jettison the numerous “economic development” giveaways that he now prizes. But he can credibly argue that he can connect with Rust Belt voters who abandoned Hillary in 2016.
In the end Democratic voters are likely to support the candidate with the best chance of beating Trump. Gender and ethnic identity, regional resentments, even ideology will take back seats to the unifying desire to beat Trump. Which makes sense.
The Cuomo argument: I’ll win in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Gillibrand argument: I’ll mobilize women, the suburbs and the base. Both strong arguments that need a campaign which can project them.
Even odds, at this point. But it’s why politics remains our most popular spectator sport.