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Astorino undeterred by low poll numbers

Matt Ryan, New York Now
Rob Astorino talks with Karen DeWitt about his plan for this fall's gubernatorial election.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino is 30 points behind incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the polls. But Astorino says he is undeterred, and has identified a path to victory in the fall elections.

Astorino, in an interview with New York State Public Radio & Television, says he’s already been through a race where he was behind by double digits, with a voter base that was two-thirds Democratic. And he says he won that contest, for Westchester County executive, and was recently reelected to a second term.

“I started 30 points down in that race, against a popular incumbent with bags of money,” said Astorino, who says people asked him why he was running. “I ran because the issues were right, the timing was right."

Astorino won the 2009 race by 15 points against Democratic incumbent Andy Spano.

The Siena Poll shows Cuomo at 58 percent to the relatively unknown Astorino’s 28 percent. The survey also posed a hypothetical match up that included a third party, progressive candidate. In that case, Cuomo’s support splits, but the GOP candidate still does not gain any new support.   

Cuomo has a $33 million campaign war chest, and has already begun television ads. Astorino will have far less funding, but claims he’s going to spend it wisely. He says there is a path to victory, even if it is a long shot.

“Ultimately people are going to judge Andrew Cuomo, not by knowing his name,” said Astorino, who says Cuomo’s job approval is under 50 percent, and most of the public does not believe the current governor has improved the state in issues ranging from education to corruption.

Astorino has focused on several issues so far in his campaign. He wants to repeal the state’s gun control laws championed by Cuomo, and replace the federal Common Core learning standards with locally based curriculum. He also wants the state health department to follow regulations to inspect abortion clinics. The department has admitted it’s fallen behind. Astorino is pro-life but has said he would not act to overturn the state’s 1970 laws legalizing abortion in New York, should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.

But the Westchester County executive says his number one concern is the state’s high taxes and slow job creation. He says Cuomo’s programs, which include a 2 percent per year property tax cap and a new tax rebate program, are gimmicks and haven’t done enough.

“I’ve likened it to a prison sentence,” said Astorino, who added that many people say they plan to move out of state in the near future as soon as they retire or the or children leave the house. “It doesn’t have to be that way."  

Cuomo ignores his opponent, never mentioning him by name or directly answering any of Astorino’s charges. But the governor does frequently mention one fact about Westchester in his standard stump speeches on the state’s finances.

“Westchester County, the highest property taxes in the United States of America. Period,” Cuomo told an audience in Syracuse recently.

Astorino says it’s not his fault. He puts it back on Cuomo, who he says hasn’t done enough to reduce state imposed mandates, including Medicaid, that many county executives and other local government leaders have complained drive up their costs.  

“The state continues to put its foot on everyone’s throat,” Astorino said. “And everyone’s turning blue and getting ready to die.”

Astorino and Cuomo will be focused on the campaign in the coming weeks, as the Democrats and Republicans plan to hold their state party conventions in May.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.