In NY Race, Niche Issues Become Political Parties

ALBANY (AP) -

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is well aware of the gambit.

In the 1994 gubernatorial race, 54,000 votes cast on the “Tax Cut Now” ballot line created by Republicans to highlight New York’s heavy tax load helped relatively unknown Republican state Sen. George Pataki upset Cuomo’s father, Mario.

This year, relatively unknown Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announced a plan to tap the votes of angry parents and educators by petitioning for a “Stop Common Core” line on the November ballot. Cuomo, despite massive leads in the polls and funding, launched a “Women’s Equality Party” line.

In New York, 15,000 signatures are enough to claim a ballot line. It’s a legacy good-government groups have tried to quash.

“It’s this idea you can go to the highest bidder,” said Jeanne Zaino, political science professor at Iona College. “It’s important in a democracy to give people a clear choice.”

This year, Cuomo was at risk of losing the support of the Working Families Party. He overcame criticism he hadn’t been forceful in pursuing a liberal agenda by promising, among other things, to push for women’s issues.

It’s unclear how well an issue party line will work since the issues chosen by Astorino and Cuomo aren’t high on the list of voters’ concerns, according to a Siena poll in mid-July.

Asked which single issue will determine who they support, voters flagged jobs (13 percent), taxes (12 percent), education (12 percent) and the economy (9 percent). The SAFE Act gun controls was next, at 5 percent. Common Core came in at No. 14 on the list of 27 topics, with 1 percent of voters seeing it as their top concern. Women’s issues placed 24th.

“It’s pocketbook issues,” Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said of the perennial top concerns.

The poll showed the 49 percent want Common Core stopped, with the heaviest support — 60 percent — among Republicans already likely to vote for Astorino.

“These are voters who Astorino might be saying, ‘You know, you don’t want to vote for me on the Republican line. I have a place you can support me,’” Greenberg said.

Cuomo is attempting the same, Greenberg said, since women tend to vote more than men.

“Independent, Republican and suburban women might not be regular pullers of the Democratic line,” he said. “I think he’s looking to give them an opportunity to support him without having to pull the Democratic line.”