Incumbent governors with national aspirations, a long list of accomplishments and flush bank accounts typically don’t worry about primary challenges, especially one mounted by a little-known professor who moved to the state five years ago.
So it was unusual when Gov. Andrew Cuomo found himself facing a spirited fight from rebels in his own Democratic party — environmentalists, unhappy public workers, critics of Albany’s insider culture and voters disturbed by Cuomo’s dismissive treatment of his opponent, Fordham University professor Zephyr Teachout.
Cuomo claimed a comfortable 62 percent in Tuesday’s Democratic matchup, but Teachout’s 34 percent — she won half of the state’s 62 counties — stunned observers who had predicted she would win a 20 percent protest vote.
Voter Vivien Traiman said Cuomo’s stance on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking, topped the reasons she voted for Teachout.
“I want to defeat Cuomo, but I’m sure we can’t,” she said outside her Manhattan polling place Tuesday. “But we can send a message.”
Cuomo did best in populous areas like New York City and Buffalo, winning 82 percent in Bronx County, 77 percent in Erie County and 74 percent in Queens. All are areas where Cuomo could depend on Democratic power structures and labor unions to mount sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts on election day.
The governor and his supporters have tried to minimize Teachout’s numbers, noting turnout for the election was a low 10 percent. And they specifically chalk up her support to three groups: fracking opponents; state workers unhappy with contracts under the Cuomo administration; and public teachers who oppose the teacher evaluation system.
Teachout, however, said Friday that there was more to her surprising showing than two narrow segments of voters.
“The fracktivists were critical and the public employees were critical, but you don’t get 60 percent of Albany with just those two groups,” she said.
Cuomo showed no indication he would now aggressively pursue Teachout supporters, acknowledging he won’t please everyone.
“If you’re going to do this job right, you can’t try to make everybody happy,” he said.