ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo may or may not end up running for the White House. But he’s already taking on the current occupant.
The Democrat delivered a full-throated attack on President Donald Trump and his fellow Washington Republicans on Wednesday with a State of the State address with two audiences: New Yorkers, who will decide this fall whether to re-elect Cuomo as governor, and progressive voters across the nation, eager for a champion.
Cuomo readily rose to the challenge Wednesday, painting himself as a progressive who gets things done, the leader of a big, important state who pushed through a minimum wage increase, paid family leave and free college tuition while also working to lower taxes.
“People need food, people need housing, people need education, people need justice,” Cuomo told the crowd of lawmakers, lobbyists, journalists and members of the public. “They don’t need theoretical progressive politics; they need practical politics, actual politics that makes a difference in their lives because they’re suffering today.”
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Cuomo is regularly mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2020, though he says he’s focused instead on re-election. Observers say attacking Trump from the left is a smart move no matter which race Cuomo is focused on. Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York 2:1, while progressive groups will play a leading role in deciding the Democratic nominee for president.
“The smartest thing Andrew Cuomo can do is what he’s doing: focus on 2018,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.
Cuomo, 60, served as U.S. housing secretary under former President Bill Clinton and was New York attorney general before winning the governor’s office. He is the son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, a liberal icon, who like his son was often mentioned as presidential material. Currently Cuomo, who has a war chest of $26 million, faces only one announced opponent this fall: Republican lawmaker Brian Kolb.
In Wednesday’s address, Cuomo vowed to sue Washington over the Republican tax overhaul, which he calls an “assault” on New York because it sharply caps a deduction for state and local taxes, meaning many residents in high-tax states like New York will see substantial increases in their tax bills. Though he only mentioned Trump by name once, he repeatedly slammed Washington Republicans as divisive and promised to push back against efforts to rein in immigration, health care spending and environmental protections.
Cuomo’s Republican critics in New York dismissed his remarks as a dress rehearsal for the presidential race.
“Gov. Cuomo is using the office of the governor to run for the office of the president,” said Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, an Orange County Republican.
Senate Leader John Flanagan dismissed questions about Cuomo’s political future, but said Cuomo should focus more on New York and less on federal policy.
“What are we doing in our own state?” he said.
Cuomo is difficult to pigeonhole politically. Early in his tenure as governor, he would endorse liberal causes such as marriage equality or gun control but then embrace centrist economic views, cutting taxes, capping government spending and investing big in corporate subsidies.
Liberals have been wary. In the 2014 governor’s race, liberal political activist and law professor Zephyr Teachout exposed Cuomo’s problems on the left by winning about a third of the vote in the Democratic primary, despite little money and almost zero name recognition. Cuomo has worked to strengthen his progressive credentials since, pushing through a minimum wage hike, paid family leave and, last year, free tuition at public colleges for state residents.
Fordham University political scientist Christina Greer said Cuomo may be betting his emphasis on pragmatism and his experience leading the nation’s fourth largest state distinguish him from Sanders, Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, with whom Cuomo has often feuded.
“When people think of progressives, Andrew Cuomo’s name is not on that list,” Greer said. “I think he wants to say ‘One, I’m more progressive than you think and two, I’m also pragmatic.’ He’s doing two things: he’s running for a third term as governor but he’s also positioning himself for a presidential campaign.”