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Times picks Wu over Hochul in state race

ALBANY – In a second stinging newspaper editorial rebuke to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his re-election campaign in just two days, the New York Times on Wednesday night endorsed political newcomer Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor, over Kathleen C. Hochul, an Erie County resident and Cuomo’s running mate for lieutenant governor.

The newspaper said that Hochul has had a “deeply troubling” record on health care, gun control and other issues in her brief tenure as a member of Congress. The paper said it preferred the “independent-minded” Wu over Hochul.

How much a single newspaper’s endorsement matters is uncertain, but the Democratic primary election Sept. 9 for governor and lieutenant governor is expected to have a typically low voter turnout, so little bumps in the road for Cuomo, such as endorsements or sour headlines, could make a difference with some voters.

Cuomo is far ahead in polls, but he risks being, at least, humbled by primary challenger Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor who is running with Wu.

The paper’s endorsement of Wu, given the liberal backing from causes aligned with environmental, women’s and other interests that have endorsed Teachout in recent days, was hardly surprising. Tuesday, the Times said that it was not offering an endorsement in the Cuomo-Teachout race, questioning her experience but offering a searing recap of Cuomo’s nearly four years in office.

On its website Wednesday night, the Times said Wu offers a “fresh perspective to counter Albany’s entrenched players” for the job that puts him next in line for the governor’s post if Cuomo was unable to fulfill his four-year term.

The paper criticized Hochul’s record, noting how she flipped-flopped on gun-control issues after she joined Cuomo’s ticket compared to her losing 2012 bid for Congress when she had the backing of the National Rifle Association. They noted her public split with President Obama over his health care agenda and questioned her positions on immigration policy.

The paper said she embraced those right-leaning policies only after she was seeking election in a congressional district that, while she was in its seat for less than one term, had become decidedly more Republican after the 2012 redistricting process.

Political insiders are keeping a special eye on the Hochul-Wu race. While Teachout badly trails Cuomo in the Democratic primary contest, polling in the lieutenant governor’s race is especially difficult when neither candidate is known by most voters.

The intrigue thickens, though, if Hochul, Cuomo’s hand-picked running mate, should lose to Wu. Under New York law, Cuomo would then be required to run with Wu as his Democratic running mate. He would also be ineligible to count votes received on other lines on which his name will appear in the November ballot, including the Working Families Party, should he be forced to run with Wu who does not have that ballot line. That plays into the hands of Rob Astorino, the Republican challenger who is using several ballot lines to try to oust Cuomo.

Whether it can stop Cuomo from being re-elected won’t be known until November. But the strange equations could be enough, when taken together, to help lower his performance numbers below what he might expected, and just low enough to bruise his chance to be taken seriously as a potential 2016 White House contender if Hillary Clinton should stumble in her expected bid.

Wu, a soft-spoken political neophyte who coined the term “net neutrality” to promote a more open and “democratic” use of the Internet, traveled parts of the state Wednesday with Teachout on a bus that was due to end its first day with a stop Wednesday night in Buffalo.

Hochul was campaigning at several stops in the Buffalo area, which is turning, given Hochul’s roots, into a region that could decide whether Wu wins and whether Cuomo will be forced to take him on as his running mate.

Wu, in interviews with The Buffalo News, has already vowed to be the progressive voice for the party if he is elected and will consider the job like a public advocate for the voters, adding that he will not – unlike current Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy – be afraid to publicly break with Cuomo if he disagrees with his policy choices.

Hochul, kept under wraps by Cuomo for the first couple of months of the campaign, has angered some past supporters who saw her wavering ways on past Second Amendment issues as a mere attempt to mold her views with Cuomo and his advocacy of the state’s NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement, or SAFE, Act enacted last year. They said her turn to the right in 2012 was “undoubtedly” meant to attract Republican and conservative Democratic voters in Western New York.

The Times said that after years of corruption, Albany needs an “independent voice” in the lieutenant governor’s post. Wu has said he envisions the job as akin to that of the New York City public advocate, who serves in an ombudsmanlike capacity on behalf of citizens.

In response, Teachout said that she is poised to become the first female governor of New York and that Wu would be the first lieutenant governor who is Asian-American, a growing segment of the electorate.