MARIO CUOMO is off and running.
Last Friday, the Democratic New York governor confirmed he would be seeking his fourth term running the Empire State. He informed the press via fax that he wanted a chance to ``complete the job of building the strong, peaceful, prosperous future'' the voters deserve.
Whether the voters want the governor for another four years is another matter. Mr. Cuomo is at an all-time low in the polls. In a mid-November survey of public opinion, the Marist Institute of Public Opinion found he had a positive approval rating of 34 percent.
The major reasons for Cuomo's low rating are the state economy and perceptions among the elctorate that he is soft on crime, analysts say.
In his statement, Cuomo called himself the underdog even though the Republicans have yet to settle on a candidate. He observed that the public is angry with incumbent politicians, a factor that led to the defeat of two area Democrats - Gov. Jim Florio of New Jersey and Mayor David Dinkins of New York City.
Cuomo originally said he would make his announcement around Jan. 1. Then, he delayed the event until Jan. 5 when he gave his state-of-the-state address. And then he delayed it further until Friday.
However, Cuomo-watchers became convinced the governor would run again after his state-of-the-state address. In that speech to the legislature, he proposed a series of tax cuts designed to help the working poor and business. In addition, he proposed a series of tougher measures for violent crime. The speech was applauded by Republicans. Many Democrats, however, were unhappy.
The speech indicates that the Cuomo strategy this year will be to publicize his successes and try to shore up the areas where he feels vulnerable.
At a press conference two weeks ago, Cuomo said the economy would be the main issue in the campaign.
The state has lost 572,000 jobs during the past four years. Although many of the job losses were due to the recession, the economy of the New York region was hit harder than the nation as a whole.
Cuomo, who opposes the death penalty, has also started to publicize recent anticrime activities. Only two weeks ago, he took credit for an anticrime program called COMBAT that was starting in East New York. The COMBAT program, however, was a federal program begun under President George Bush and paid for by federal and city funds.
Whether the Republicans can take advantage of Cuomo's shortcomings is debatable. In 1990, the Republicans and conservatives split their vote. As a result, Cuomo won 53 percent of the popular vote. This year, both Republicans and conservatives are vying for the nomination again.