ALBANY — Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton last week, Andrew Cuomo’s name appeared on a growing list of Democrats who could make a run for the White House in 2020.
The two-term New York governor is doing little to tamp down that chatter, and he wasted little time last week stoking the speculation.
Cuomo appeared on a New York City TV station the day after the election, talking about the expected national political debate over the next four years.
The direct question – does he want to run for president? – wasn’t asked.
Instead, he was asked what national role he sees for himself.
“I see a role for myself as governor of the state of New York,’’ he said.
Democrats say the dangling answers can be expected from Cuomo from now on. He’s not encouraging the talk, his allies say. But he’s not discouraging it, either
“I guarantee this is something that Andrew Cuomo wants people to talk about. It increases his stature nationally, and it makes him more formidable in New York,’’ said one Democratic campaign strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity.
If he is to make a run in 2020, Democratic strategists say, he has two possible paths.
He could run for a third term in 2018, but he would need to win big and carry not just the liberal base of New York City, but other - more conservative - regions of the state as well to show that he has broad appeal.
His other path would be to not seek re-election and instead form an exploratory committee. That would get his name and face and message out nationally.
But the path to the White House is hardly full-steam ahead for Cuomo.
For starters, he has a complex government to run, though the upcoming State of the State in January could present him with an early opportunity to talk not just about New York, but his broader visions.
There also is the matter of the federal investigation that has already touched people and projects close to him with allegations of bid rigging and bribery. Cuomo has not been named as a target nor has he been implicated.
Moreover, Cuomo has not spent much time wooing national Democratic Party leaders. The governor has command over the New York’s Democratic Party, but his allies say that, compared with most politicians considering a national run, he has done little to blossom relationships with key party insiders in other states, especially early primary and caucus states.
Yet if he is interested, Cuomo is in a good position for 2020 in terms of being a veteran Democrat and a sitting governor. which gives him political power and a bully pulpit.
Mayor Byron Brown, Cuomo’s hand-picked chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he believes Cuomo would, if interested, be “a very strong and viable candidate.’’ He cited a range of policy initiatives Cuomo has gotten through Albany and his “charismatic” personality.
“If he continues to be successful and move issues and move progress forward in the state, one of the biggest states in the nation, he will certainly be well positioned for a potential run, if that is something he is interested in,’’ Brown said.
Another election first
Before Cuomo can seriously consider a national campaign in 2020, there is the matter of a state election 2018.
While Cuomo has built a campaign chest of some $19 million, polls in New York show a disgruntled electorate, especially upstate, that offers no guarantees Cuomo will be handed a third term.
“The danger for Cuomo in 2018 is if he runs for governor and wants to be president, he has to win big. If running for governor again and it’s a squeaker, it shows he’s tarnished a bit,’’ said Robert Shapiro, a Columbia University political scientist.
Republicans are already working on coming up with a field of candidates to take on Cuomo in two years. Whether a serious, and well-financed challenger can emerge to move more than just the Republican base in a Democratic-voter dominated New York is a question the GOP is grappling to answer.
And within his own state Democratic Party, Cuomo’s relations with the left-leaning base have been mixed.
The governor has veered more sharply to the left the past few years, winning back some prior critics with his support for higher minimum wages, paid family leave and large government spending increases for public schools.
Yet, the governor’s confrontations with liberals and progressive organizations are legendary. He has taken on entrenched interests in Albany – many on the left – over budget cuts, charter schools and, in first term, backing a tax plan that benefited wealthy New Yorkers.
“He’s a mainstream Democrat that activists in the party are not so prone to readily support,’’ Shapiro said of Cuomo.
Just two years ago, the governor received a wakeup call from the left when he was challenged by politically unknown Zephyr Teachout in what turned out to be a closer-than-expected Democratic primary.
Should Cuomo run in 2018, it will take a big win to get him to stand out among other potential Democratic presidential candidates.
Some Democrats theorize Cuomo won’t seek a third term as governor but instead, declare that he wants to take his message nationally and create an exploratory-type group to consider a White House bid. He could then spend a couple years touring the country and, in the words of one Democrat, “see if lightning strikes.’’
But one Democrat with knowledge of Cuomo’s thinking dismisses that theory.
“I don’t think that’s in his nature,’’ the Democratic campaign strategist said.
A long potential list
The list of 2020 Democratic possibilities is already long and will undoubtedly expand.
They include New Jersey’s U.S. Sen. Cory Booker; Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Clinton’s running mate; Kamala Harris, the California attorney general just elected to the U.S. Senate; and New York U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat, jumped into the national light last week, saying she will help lead fights against efforts to relax federal regulations aimed at Wall Street or banks or any efforts to gut immigration rules or health insurance availability.
In a speech Thursday to the AFL-CIO’s executive council in Washington, Warren lashed out at coming problems with a fiery urgency.
“The time for ignoring the American people is over,’’ Warren said to cheers from some of the labor movement’s key leaders.
The union streamed her speech via Facebook, which attracted much prodding via online messages from viewers for Warren to run for president.
Cuomo that same Thursday afternoon was several hundred miles north in Syracuse. He gave comments later interpreted as potential White House ponderings to a handful of local reporters, which meant the coverage wasn’t as widespread as Warren’s strong speech.
Cuomo offered words that might have sounded like a stump-speech-in-training.
He talked of key measures he’s gotten passed, his ability to work with Republicans, and how he intends “to keep up the debate and the dialogue’’ on an assortment of issues.
Cuomo does have allies in the likes of Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. What role those two will play in shaping the 2020 Democratic field, though, is far from uncertain.
Meanwhile, some Democrats don’t mind helping with a 2020 Cuomo whisper campaign.
“The bottom line is he is popular, he’s got strong numbers, he’s exactly the sort of candidate that Democrats will think they need as someone who can appeal to white working class voters and men, and he has a lot of other fundamentals, like the ability to fund raise a ton of money,” said one party campaign strategist. “He comes from a politically powerful base, he’s got name recognition and has real bipartisan victories he can tout around the country,’’