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Bob McCarthy: Gubernatorial merry-go-round

It could be said that the 2018 contest for governor is beginning to take shape. It could also be said the shape is one big blob.

Things began devolving last weekend when the Working Families Party convened its state committee in Albany. The left-leaning band was heading toward dissolving its long marriage with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, prompting him late on Friday the 13th to dump the party before the party dumped him.

Then, as happens in bad break-ups, the divorce proceedings got ugly. The Buffalo News reported on Monday that forces close to Cuomo were attempting to coax Democratic Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray out of his congressional challenge to Republican incumbent Chris Collins in favor of Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. Presumably, that would mean a new candidate for the second spot.

Late Thursday in Buffalo, Cuomo offered less than rousing support for Hochul when he said it is “up to Kathy” about running for the second spot.

At its weekend meeting, the Working Families Party endorsed actress-activist Cynthia Nixon for governor and New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor. The possibility of all kinds of ticket splitting appeared to drive the Cuomo camp into panic mode.

Just before the deadline to accept or decline congressional nominations, forces close to the governor were apparently seeking a “soft landing” for Hochul by big-footing McMurray and inserting her as Collins’ Democratic opponent.

Soft landing? How about crash landing?

If one Democrat in Western civilization harbors even a hope of defeating Collins, it would be Hochul. She overcame the big Republican enrollment to win a special election for the seat in 2011, only to narrowly lose to Collins in 2012. But if she had wanted to challenge Collins in 2018 – and Democrats were longing for her candidacy – she would have done so.

Hochul passed on the race. Times change. She now operates as a statewide Democrat and has left behind the kind of pedigree needed to challenge Collins in the state’s most Republican district.

Indeed, Hochul boasts of her progressive ideals these days as she faces a primary with Williams, a black councilman from Brooklyn able to mobilize lots of voters. Ditto for Cuomo against Nixon as he and Hochul face a Working Families threat that may not derail them, but will make real trouble.

Maybe that’s why Republicans are so encouraged as Sen. John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, appears to recognize the party is coalescing around Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro to challenge Cuomo. Molinaro is already hinting how he will handle Cuomo’s certain campaign assault on the effects of the Trump presidency on New York state.

“I didn’t vote for the president,” Molinaro told the Politics Column a few days ago. “For those who admire him, it’s because he says it the way he sees it. So do I.” He added, “I had issues on his style.”

Republicans were also pouncing on the Hochul situation. Molinaro’s very first press release to the Politics Column noted The News reported that among those involved in suggesting new campaign scenarios was Sam Hoyt. He is the former assemblyman and economic development official who resigned last year among sexual harassment charges (that he denies).

“Drafting Sam Hoyt … someone Cuomo claimed to sever ties with, to dump a sitting woman office-holder, a loyal running mate no less, as lieutenant governor is a disgrace and the height of hypocrisy,” Molinaro said.

Polls show the governor with a healthy lead over Nixon and Molinaro, too, but Siena’s latest survey may have rung alarms in Cuomo HQ. A month ago, Cuomo held a 66 to 19 percent lead over Nixon. In the new poll, his lead stands at 58 to 27 percent among registered Democrats. Meanwhile, the race could pick up on the Democratic side later this week amid indications Nixon is finally planning her first campaign visit to the state’s second-biggest city.

Then again, after she told the New York Times Magazine that upstate begins at Ithaca, it’s got to be hard to find your way.

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