Astorino has beaten the odds before

It appears the Republicans have picked their candidate to make what might be considered a suicidal run against Andrew Cuomo as he attempts to gain a second term on his way to besting his father’s record of three terms as governor of the Empire State. What’s more, the conventional wisdom is that Andrew sees himself as a future president.

Twice elected Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has proven that he can garner a lot of votes. He seems to have embraced many of the Tea Party themes that one wouldn’t expect to work in a supposedly liberal state like New York, yet he is extraordinarily popular in Westchester County where Democrats are said to outnumber Republicans two-to-one. How come? The answer: the taxes are high, very high. When the time comes to decide what is first on the priority list of voters, you had better believe that they care a lot about how much they are shelling out for services.

Since he first got to the second floor of that big stone building in Albany, Andrew Cuomo, who is now known as a fiscal conservative-type Democrat, has been preaching the gospel of keeping the cost of government down. His pollster, Drew Zambelli, is one of the best in the business and he knows just how salient taxes are. The more you pay in taxes, the less you can do for your family. So from the moment his run up to yet another term began, Cuomo has stood for a tight, parsimonious government. Astorino has adopted tough Tea Party-type language and basically says it’s all smoke and mirrors and Cuomo is a phony. In this campaign, expect him to point out that New York is right at the top of the list when it comes to the amount it spends on government.

Every once in a while, voters say, “Enough,” and put the brakes on things. Astorino would appear to have found the formula to make that happen in Democratic Westchester. We have seen this kind of thing before in places like New York City and Democratic Massachusetts, where the Democrats, together with their traditional union allies, are seen as driving up taxes and Republicans are elected.

For his part, Astorino is an attractive candidate. He speaks fluent Spanish, which means a great deal to the Hispanic population. He leans toward the Tea Party. He believes in a lean government. To the overtaxed voters of Westchester County, he has appeared as a Godsend. Cuomo has been courting voters an anti-tax conservative, but Republican Astorino has come back with, “Don’t believe him, he’s a phony, it’s all nonsense, and you’re paying through the nose.” What’s more, the Republican establishment seems to be lining up behind him, leaving losers like Donald Trump and Carl Paladino out in the cold. None of this can be good news for Cuomo.

Of course, Cuomo has over thirty million dollars in his campaign account. He is backed by some of the most influential and important money people in the state. He’s a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. He is thirty points ahead in the polls. He has that magic family name which won his very popular father, Mario, office three times. But even Mario eventually ran out of steam and lost.

Right now, nobody knows Astorino but they will. If Andrew is seen as buying the election, he could have trouble. Right now, Astorino’s run does seem like a suicide mission but he is the county executive in an overwhelming Democratic County. Just how do you think that happened?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/7/14

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