It's Andrew Cuomo's nightmare: a well-known incumbent with a famous political name and a big campaign warchest loses to a no-name opponent from Westchester in a shocker.
Even twenty years later, Mario Cuomo's loss to George Pataki must haunt the younger Cuomo – and he's determined to avoid a similar stunning loss to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
While it may seem like a very heavy lift for Astorino to unseat Cuomo – and it is – expect the governor to go in heavy-duty campaign mode once a budget deal is completed later this month. After all, he's not going to get re-elected if his approval rating stays at 42 percent.
Here a few things that are on the checklist of Cuomo's top political advisor – who happens to be himself:
• Continue to have a no-drama legislative session in Albany and get the budget passed on time. You've had plenty of legislative victories over the last three years but the best thing you may have to hope for this year is avoiding the "dysfunction" label that plagued your predecessors. (But make sure you get that property tax relief legislation passed.) Pack up the state legislature on the last day of their session and throw away the key.
• Work on turning things around upstate. Yes, you won't be able to get all those jobs and residents to move back but you'll at least have to talk a better game. As Liz Benjamin points out the bad tipping point for Cuomo upstate was the passage of the handgun-control SAFE Act – as well as the perception that he's favoring Buffalo over the other cities in the region. Show more familiarity with the issues – even if you don't have the silver bullet to save the region.
• Focus relentlessly on New York City's suburbs – which are filled with Democratic-leaning independent voters. While Westchester is Astorino's homebase, it's also where you happen to live. Talk property tax relief until you're blue in the face. And, yes, it's very smart to act like Staten Island is a suburb and focus on the borough's voters.
• Continue to spend some of that $33 million warchest. Ads this week were quietly launched upstate to tout the governor's agenda. Keep on buying spots upstate – where airtime is cheap. Fundraise like mad and budget a massive ad blitz for the final eight weeks of the race.
• Rip Rob. The governor is already letting the state Democratic party and surrogates go after Astorino's anti-abortion position. Expect Team Cuomo to try to use this issue to drive a massive wedge between Astorino and moderate voters who might consider voting for him.
• Don't let the mayor of New York City campaign for you outside of the five boroughs. Twenty years later, Mario Cuomo is still probably kicking himself for allowing Rudy Giuliani to stump for him upstate where voters ignored the mayor's party label and instead focused on Cuomo's alliance with a downstate politician.
• But use Bill de Blasio for your political advantage. Nothing makes you seem less like a wide-eyed liberal than fighting with one. Continue to squabble with the mayor on raising taxes while wearing your charter school sweater.
So while much of the political world is treating Cuomo's re-election like a given, the governor is much smarter than that, knowing that he faces a foe who's far more polished than his 2010 GOP opponent, Carl Paladino. Next week we'll look at Astorino's game plan and his hopes to channel the wild spirit of 1994.