FILE - In this combination of file photos, New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, left, speaks during a Democratic primary debate in Hempstead, N.Y., on Aug. 29, 2018, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in New York on July 18, 2018. Democratic primary voters in New York on Thursday, Sept. 13 will settle the primary battle between two-term Cuomo and liberal challenger Nixon. (J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday Pool, and Evan Agostini/Invision, File)

Nixon hopes for big upset in primary battle with Cuomo

September 13, 2018 - 5:14 pm

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and activist and actress Cynthia Nixon made one last appeal to New York Democrats casting ballots Thursday as their long and sometimes nasty primary contest comes to a close.

The outcome of the Democratic race will likely resonate around the nation, as it is a particularly high-profile example of the insurgent left wing that is seeking to oust establishment incumbents who they say have failed to deliver on liberal promises.

Nixon has hammered Cuomo for failing to address New York City's beleaguered subways and for not following through on pledges to address corruption. She's called Cuomo a bully and says she represents a wave of liberals eager to take a greater role in American politics.

"It's an exciting day that we've worked so hard for and we're seeing so much excitement, so much enthusiasm, so much momentum — in New York City, across the state." Nixon told reporters at her Manhattan polling place.

Cuomo has mounted a formidable defense, touting liberal accomplishments such as gun control, free public college tuition and a higher minimum wage. He's spent millions on ads and tried to make the race about Republican President Donald Trump, arguing that he's the best qualified to govern and push back against the White House. In short, the liberal who gets things done.

"As governor I believe it's New York's obligation to stand up and lead and lead against a lot of these changes in Washington that are totally opposite of who we are as New Yorkers and what we believe," Cuomo said as he cast his ballot in Westchester County. "There is a divisiveness coming out of Washington that I think is cancerous to this nation."

Polls show Cuomo has a commanding lead, with the most recent survey, from Siena College, suggesting he was more than 40 percentage points ahead in the race's final days. Nixon argues that recent upset victories should make anyone cautious about the accuracy of polls. She points to Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's primary victory over longtime congressman Joe Crowley as evidence that underdog challengers can defy the odds.

While he seldom mentions her name, Cuomo has taken her seriously as a political threat. Four years ago he largely ignored primary challenger Zephyr Teachout, refusing even to shake her hand, and lost a third of the vote. This year he's spent millions on ads and, intentionally or not, moved to the left on issues such as legalizing marijuana, banning plastic bags, returning voting rights to former inmates and addressing conditions in New York City public housing.

The race has featured bitter attacks. Nixon called Cuomo a "bully" and a liar, while Cuomo's campaign has dismissed Nixon as "unhinged."

Cuomo has also racked up endorsements from a wide assortment of people including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and, on Wednesday, the musician Nicki Minaj.

Nixon, meanwhile, is hoping several recent missteps by Cuomo and his campaign come back to bite him.

The governor was mocked for saying America "was never that great" during remarks criticizing Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

Cuomo also claimed to have no knowledge of a Democratic Party mailer that questioned Nixon's support for Jewish people — despite Cuomo's control of the party and a recent $2.5 million contribution to its campaign operations. Party Director Geoff Berman later said the mailer was a mistake, and Cuomo's spokeswoman acknowledged that two former aides volunteering on the campaign were behind the piece.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, an independent, in the November general election.

It's possible that no matter who wins, both Cuomo and Nixon could appear on the November ballot anyway, thanks to third-party nominations. New York state law allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines.

Cuomo has the nomination of the Independence Party and the Women's Equality Party, while Nixon has been nominated by the Working Families Party — though she has said she will seek to remove her name if she doesn't beat Cuomo in the Democratic primary.