Northeast primaries: Cuomo cruising now, but it hasn't been smooth sailing

In primaries Tuesday in five Northeastern states, governorships are at stake in New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, with several tight House races to watch. 

Craig Ruttle/AP
Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrives with his partner Sandra Lee to cast a vote in the primary election Tuesday, Sept. 9 at the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco in Mount Kisco, New York.

Voters in five of the nation’s Northeastern states are trickling into polling stations Tuesday in the last smattering of primaries before the November elections.

In New York, which ranked dead last in turnout in the 2010 midterms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to cruise to victory over Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, whose quixotic challenge from the progressive left could nevertheless damage the moderate Democratic incumbent.

A champion of gay marriage and gun control in New York, Governor Cuomo has also carefully cultivated a fiscally conservative record in the state – not only to appeal to upstate conservatives to secure a sweeping margin of victory for a second term this fall, but also to build a moderate image for what many believe are longer-range national ambitions.

So even a 30 percent showing by Ms. Teachout, a Vermont native and former director of Internet organizing for the 2004 Howard Dean presidential campaign, could embarrass the ambitious New York governor, some Democrats say, exposing his weakness among the party’s liberal stalwarts. And turnout is expected to be minuscule in New York’s second primary election this year, coming less than three months after a separate primary for federal offices in June. Experts say the separate primaries depress turnout and cost the state an additional $50 million.

Cuomo has barely mentioned Teachout and has barely campaigned during the primary season, though he did try to get the Manhattan law professor booted from the Sept. 9 ballot, saying she didn’t meet state residency requirements – a charge rejected by a state court in August.

And in a video that went viral, Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were seen flat out ignoring the progressive insurgent, turning their backs on Teachout when she stood directly next to them at a Labor Day parade, attempting to say hello and shake hands.

Cuomo’s reelection bumps also included The New York Times’ refusal to endorse the incumbent, citing his abrupt disbanding of a panel he appointed to investigate rampant corruption in the state’s capital. Cuomo shut it down after its members pursued his allies. The US Attorney from Manhattan then assumed the panel’s investigations, another embarrassment for the governor.

While the Times would not endorse Teachout, it did surprise many observers by endorsing her running mate, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, a political novice best known for coining the phrase “net neutrality.”  

In Massachusetts’ race for governor, Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) is also expected to win easily Tuesday over two Democratic primary rivals. Ms. Coakley drew the ire of national Democrats in 2010 after squandering a big early lead in the special election to replace the late US Sen. Ted Kennedy, losing the Senate seat to tea party-backed Scott Brown, who became the first Republican senator from Massachusetts since 1972.

Should Coakley prevail on Tuesday as expected, her likely opponent would be Charlie Baker, the 2010 Republican nominee who has outpolled his more conservative Republican rival by wide margins coming into Tuesday’s primary. Mr. Baker, a former health-care executive, lost by six points to Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in the last election.

But as a social liberal and fiscal conservative, Baker fits the profile of the kind of Republican governor that led Massachusetts for 16 years before Governor Patrick won the office for Democrats in 2006. And polls show a tight matchup between Baker and Coakley going into November, should both candidates prevail in their respective primaries.

In one of the most vulnerable Democratic House districts, the Bay State’s sixth, US Rep. John Tierney, a nine-term Democrat, finds himself in a ferocious fight for his party’s nomination Tuesday. Four primary challengers, including Seth Moulton, a Harvard-educated Marine veteran who served four tours of duty in Iraq and is a former top aide to Gen. David Petraeus, could unseat the incumbent.

But even if Representative Tierney survives in one of the closest watched House races in the country, he will have to face Republican Richard Tisei, the former state Senate minority leader, who lost by less than 4,000 votes to Tierney in 2012. Still, Democrats are rallying around the embattled congressman, a close ally of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

In New Hampshire, Scott Brown, Coakley’s former rival, is seeking a second tenure as US Senator, this time from the Granite State. In Tuesday’s Republican primary, Mr. Brown is facing former US Senator Bob Smith, who represented New Hampshire in both the House and Senate from 1984 to 2002.

But Brown was also well ahead in pre-election polls, and he has already been running a campaign focused more on incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen, whom he will face in November if he wins as expected. Experts are looking to the margin of Brown’s presumed victory to gage voter enthusiasm for the erstwhile senator from Massachusetts.

New Hampshire’s party primaries also feature two up-for-grabs House races with national implication. In the state’s first district, which has switched parties three times in the past four elections, the GOP primary pits political novice Dan Innis against former representative Frank Guinta. Mr. Innis, a pro-gay marriage candidate who also supports abortion rights, would be one of only a few House Republicans with liberal social positions should he win Tuesday and again in November. But first he must overcome Mr. Guinta, who beat the incumbent Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in 2010 before losing the rematch in 2012.

In New Hampshire’s second district, Republican Marilinda Garcia is vying to become the first Latina congresswoman in state history. She’s backed by heavyweights Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and the anti-tax Club for Growth in her primary battle with former state legislator Gary Lambert. The winner will then enter an expected tight race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Annie Kuster, another battle with national implications.

In Rhode Island, State Treasurer Gina Raimondo (D) is vying to become the state’s first female governor, but she’s locked in a tight three-candidate primary that also features Providence Mayor Angel Tavernas, who would become the first Latino to lead the state. But incumbent Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently endorsed political novice Clay Pell, an officer in the US Coast Guard and grandson of Claiborne Pell, the former senator from Rhode Island, in the tossup Democratic primary. The winner will face the winner of the Republican primary, which pits Cranston Mayor Allan Fung against Barrington businessman Ken Block.

 Finally, in Delaware, Republican voters on Tuesday will choose between Carl Smink, an octogenarian Air Force veteran who appeals to the conservative wing of the state GOP, and Kevin Wade, a businessman who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2012. The victor will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Chris Coons in November.

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