As the heaviest part of the New York political season approaches, we find ourselves beginning to think about the upcoming primaries and general election in more specific detail.
The conventional wisdom, bolstered by polls showing her far in the lead among New York Democrats, has Kathleen Rice winning the Democratic primary for State Attorney General as the sitting District Attorney of Nassau County and the only woman of the five primary candidates.
The conventional wisdom may well be wrong, as Steve Greenberg of the Siena College Poll explained in remarks at a New York State Bar Association event at its headquarters in Albany last month. He pointed out that since Andrew Cuomo has no primary opponent for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and neither Charles Schumer nor Kirsten Gillibrand has a primary opponent for Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator, if history is any guide, turnout for the September 14 Democratic primary will be very low. When no one runs commercials or other high-decibel campaign efforts for the highest-profile jobs, most Democrats don’t pay enough attention to vote in their primary.
Under those circumstances, popularity among the mass of New York State Democrats means very little. What matters is popularity among those Democrats likely to vote despite the absence of primary campaigns for the top spots.
Which Democrats tend to vote under those circumstances? Answer: the most liberal Democrats, union members, and voters in neighborhoods where local candidates in primaries for the State Assembly and/or State Senate are pulling out their supporters. Greenberg noted that all three of those categories favor State Senator Eric Schneiderman, who has the most liberal support, the most union support, and many Democrats vying in primaries for nomination to legislative seats within his base of support in Manhattan and the Bronx.
On August 21, Schneiderman received the endorsement of The New York Times, the first, earliest endorsement the Times has made in this year’s races, giving Schneiderman plenty of time to trumpet the endorsement throughout the State. From the body of the endorsement, it appears that at least one other candidate came close to persuading the Times editorial board to do otherwise. His victory in winning the support of the Times reinforces the credibility of Greenberg’s prediction, and makes it less likely that other male candidates will dilute Schneiderman’s support against Rice.
If Schneiderman does win the primary, he will face Staten Island Republican District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan, Jr. On the surface, a current member of the much-reviled New York State Senate would seem to face a considerable disadvantage against an active and generally benign district attorney. Notwithstanding New York’s huge Democratic enrollment advantage – 5.8 million Democrats to 2.9 million Republicans – Donovan could have a chance, since New Yorkers sometimes like to pick one statewide official of the non-dominant party to keep on eye on the other officials (see, e.g. Democratic Comptroller Arthur Levitt throughout the years of Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller).
However, if Andrew Cuomo, as expected, rolls up a huge margin against his Republican opponent in the November 2 general election for Governor, the “keep an eye on the others” factor could be drowned out. Or, if more of the media beyond the Times actually recognize Schneiderman’s unusually strong personal credentials, as contrasted with Donovan’s good but not extraordinary credentials, other factors just won’t matter.