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After primary, focus shifts to general election

Matt Ryan, New York Now
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul during the Democratic Party's nomination convention. (file photo)

After winning Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now poised to run strongly against his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino. But will he have any lingering problems after more than one-third of primary voters rejected him for an obscure law professor?

Cuomo’s challenger, Fordham Law School Professor Zephyr Teachout, managed to win over one-third of the vote against the incumbent governor, despite Cuomo’s multi-million dollar war chest and near unanimous support from the state’s Democratic political establishment, from Hillary Clinton to local mayors.

Teachout, speaking to supporters, said even though she didn’t win, she wants to celebrate what she says the campaign accomplished.

“It’s all right to speak up,” Teachout told cheering supporters. “Democrats don’t need to be scared anymore.”

The lower margin of victory for the governor could hurt Cuomo should he decide to run for President in the future, because Democratic presidential primary voters include a high percentage of left-leaning voters.

Steve Greenberg, political analyst and spokesman for Siena College polls, says the results are significant.

“More than a third said ‘I’m not happy with you Gov. Cuomo,’” Greenberg said, though he points out only 10 percent of Democrats voted.  

Cuomo employed a Rose Garden strategy during the campaign, holding no political events and refusing to debate his opponent. On Tuesday night, he shunned a victory party and issued a brief statement instead, congratulating his running mate Kathy Hochul’s win over challenger Tim Wu.

Cuomo was already looking toward the general election when he spoke briefly to media after voting on Tuesday. He made the case for his trademark mix of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism.

“I lowered your taxes,” Cuomo said. “I made peace with Democrats and Republicans. I got budgets passed.”

Greenberg says Cuomo’s record will likely play better in a general election against Republican opponent Rob Astorino, than it did with left-leaning Democratic primary voters.

“The majority of the voters in this state are not looking for an extreme liberal or an extreme conservative,” Greenberg said.

Cuomo’s lieutenant governor candidate, former western New York Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, could also help the governor in the general elections. Hochul, in the past, has described herself as a conservative Democrat and was even endorsed by the NRA. And she’s popular in the Buffalo area, where Cuomo lost in 2010.

Hochul spoke at a gathering of Erie County Democrats.  

“We got to bring it home in November,” Hochul said. “I want to have the same numbers coming out of Erie County that we saw here today.”

Hochul faces GOP candidate Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss in the general election for lieutenant governor.

Astorino, meanwhile, is making a play for disaffected Teachout voters, saying in a statement that the unhappy Democrats should now join his efforts to fight corruption.

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.