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Molinaro charges ahead with Cuomo attacks in Buffalo visit

Now the campaign for governor of New York gets serious.

Following incumbent Andrew M. Cuomo’s rout of Cynthia Nixon in Thursday’s Democratic primary, the general election kicked off Friday as Republican Marc Molinaro launched his “Cuomo Corruption Tour” and picked up where Nixon left off.

During a downtown news conference, Molinaro blistered Cuomo for his oversight of state government that he said countenanced official corruption and produced a string of charges and convictions. And in an interview with The Buffalo News, he strongly hinted at the kind of campaign he will run.

He labeled Cuomo “privileged” who “was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” He said his opponent politically benefited from an “established, powerful ruling class.” And if the governor drifts back to the center after battling an ultra-progressive candidate during the primary, it will stem from not being “tethered to any philosophy other than self-preservation.”

“We will remind New Yorkers that if they think the system is rigged and the deck is stacked against them,” Molinaro said, “it’s because it is.”

But Molinaro is emphasizing many of the same points that dominated the Nixon campaign. The actress and activist hammered the governor over the conviction of his top aide and confidant – Joseph Percoco – on bribery charges involving favors for companies conducting business with the state. She also questioned his Buffalo Billion economic development program, not only for the corruption charges stemming from the RiverBend solar panel plant but for the way about $750 million was awarded for its construction.

Can Molinaro succeed when Nixon failed on a grand scale?

“You not only have to have the right message, you have to have a believable messenger,” Molinaro said.

Eleanor Gayles-Davis emerges from the Delevan-Grider Community Center after casting her vote in the primary election on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

After Cuomo mostly ignored Nixon during the primary while attacking President Trump, Molinaro showed how he will handle more of the same. He says he did not vote for Trump in 2016, and on Friday was not eager to talk about him.

“I’m running against Andrew Cuomo,” he said. “My goal is to explain to the public why Andrew Cuomo took advantage of his office by allowing some horrible things to happen and defrauding taxpayers.”

He also said he is eager to face Cuomo in debates, and that he does not believe his fate hinges on Nixon continuing on the Working Families line and siphoning Democratic votes from the governor.

“It’s a four or five candidate race, regardless,” he said, referring to several minor party candidates expected to be factors in the election.

Molinaro also said he is ready to challenge Cuomo should he drift back to the center in the general election by labeling it a “lie.”

“We saw what he became in the Democratic primary,” he said. “He has no anchor in any principled reality.”

As the next phase of the campaign begins, veteran political observers like Michael Pendleton, associate professor at SUNY Buffalo State and chairman of its political science department, question why the strategy will work. After Nixon’s failure, he says Molinaro must find an innovative way to convey the message because of the public’s short attention span.

Still, Pendleton thinks Molinaro is on the right track.

“If I were the Republican candidate, corruption would be the thing on which I beat the drum along with the lack of substantive achievement on economic development,” he said. “So many projects have depended upon direct state investment. Those may be Cuomo’s weakest points.”

Pendleton acknowledged Molinaro may face a tough sell. He foresees a repeat of the governor’s 2014 campaign in Western New York featuring construction cranes throughout the area, this time with rehabilitated downtown buildings and crowds enjoying Canalside and other waterfront attractions sponsored by the state.

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