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Cuomo far outraises GOP gubernatorial opponent

Ryan Delaney

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already ahead of his Republican challenger in name recognition. Now, according to required campaign disclosure filings with the state Board of Elections, Cuomo is far ahead in fundraising as well.

Cuomo, who already had more than $33 million in his campaign war chest, took in an additional $8.4 million during the first six months of the year and spent around $6.5 million, leaving him with a balance of more than $35 million.

Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, faces an uphill battle against the incumbent governor.

Astorino reports he raised almost $3.4 million from January through July 15 of this year, and has spent just under $1 million on his campaign, for a total of $2.4 million in the bank. That amount includes a transfer of more than $500,000 left over from his successful campaign for Westchester County executive.

Bruce Gyory, a political consultant and professor at SUNY Albany, says it becomes a vicious circle for little known and underfunded challengers. They need money to gain name recognition and points in the opinion polls, but they need to be well known and well liked to draw donors.

He says it was different in past decades, when political parties helped the candidates establish themselves.

“The party's base sustained itself, and the party’s strength could nurture that base, giving a candidate a chance to be known,” Gyory said.   

Now, he says political parties are weaker, and candidates who are not independently wealthy are on their own.

According to polls, only around 20 percent of voters know who Astorino is. Gyory says candidates need around 75 percent name recognition to run a credible campaign against a well known opponent. They can get better known by spending money -- around $10 million on TV advertisements.

He says the downstate media market is one of the most expensive in the nation, and upstate is very diverse.

“Upstate, you have eleven different media markets, so you have to make eleven different media buys,” Gyory said.

Cuomo has already spent part of his multi-million dollar war chest on positive ads touting his efforts to cap property taxes, promote the new Common Core learning standards and clean up corruption.

But a campaign that has millions of dollars at its disposal can also negatively define opponents, especially if they don’t have the money to introduce themselves in a positive light. The governor has begun doing just that in ads that began airing the same day that the campaign filing reports were due.

“Petty, corrupt politics,” a narrator intones as ominous music plays. “We just can’t trust Rob Astorino.”

Astorino tried to turn Cuomo’s generous spending on TV against him, in a web-based ad that accuses Cuomo of using money set aside for Superstorm Sandy aid for television commercials, in a spot that features a storm victim.

“It’s unconscionable that money has been taken out of the Sandy fund and used for commercials promoting how great New York is,” the woman in the ad says, as she stands in her damaged house with mournful piano music in the background.  

Cuomo has said he received permission from the federal government to run the ads, which were used to promote tourism in areas hard hit by the storm.

The web-based ad by the Republican challenger had 45 hits by mid-day, far fewer than the viewers of broadcast television programs who saw the anti-Astorino ads.

Gyory says the last time a candidate for governor in a major political party was outspent by his opponent was in 1982, when businessman Lew Lehrman outspent the present governor’s father, Mario Cuomo. Cuomo won and remained governor for 12 years.

But Gyory says that race was for an open seat, and the money disparity was not as vast as it is in the 2014 campaign, when the challenger has raised less than seven percent of the amount gathered by the incumbent.

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.