Michael Goodwin: Is New York Governor Cuomo poised for 2020 after big election win?

Going into last week’s elections, the safe bet was that Gov. Cuomo would win a third term by a respectable margin and then test the 2020 presidential waters. But after his blowout victory, the only question is how he will wiggle out of his pledge to serve four more years in Albany unless “God strikes me dead.”

Defying providence is dicey, but we’ll let Cuomo deal with his soul. For the rest of us, it is useful to grasp the magnitude of his victory and how it improves his standing in the crowded field of Democrats who want the nomination.

It’s also worth comparing his record to that of his late father, Mario, who also won three terms and once was the leading Dem for the White House.

First, though, one of Cuomo’s challenges is managing the changed dynamics in Albany, where ultra-progressives now control the whole Legislature. Because they’re all Democrats, in theory, they should be allies because Cuomo helped make their victories happen.

In truth, while he’s kept his distance from them, this year he had to help knock out the GOP. Years-long doubts on the left about his commitment to their agenda had to be banished lest the Bernie Sanders wing desert him.

Those doubts were unlikely to cost him victory, but could have cut into his margin enough to make him appear a weak winner and hobbled him in the capital and nationally.

The stakes were heightened ­after actress Cynthia Nixon mounted a primary challenge from the left. She got dreamy coverage at first, but her wacky ideas — endorsing public-union strikes, for example — robbed her of any momentum and Cuomo trounced her.

His team’s 11th-hour dirty trick of suggesting she was anti-Israel added to worries the left would stay home in the general election against Republican Marc Molinaro. But despite Nixon never endorsing him, Cuomo said and did all he could to make sure her voters turned out for him.

Did they ever.

Not to suggest for a moment that he cares a whit about topping his father’s record, but the current gov shattered family history last week. His third-term victory was secured with nearly 3.4 million votes, against the 2.1 million his ­father got while winning his third term in 1990.

Cuomo the Younger got 59 percent, while Cuomo the Elder got just 53 percent 28 years ago. Although the state population has grown by only about 1 million people in the intervening years, to 19 million, there were more than 5.7 million votes cast last Tuesday, compared to 4 million in 1990.

Here’s another revealing comparison. Four years ago, the current governor won his second term while getting only about 2 million votes out of 3.5 million cast. In other words, of the added 2.2 million votes this year, Cuomo got 1.4 million of them.

Cuomo, a prodigious fundraiser, mostly ignored Molinaro to focus on President Trump, as if auditioning for 2020. He and the president used to be pals and, truth be told, there is something Trumpian about Cuomo’s my-way-or-the-highway personality.

That sets him up nicely for 2020 — a big win in a big blue state and a record on progressive issues, such as gun control and abortion rights, that most competitors cannot match. The downsides include that Cuomo is a mediocre debater at best and his tenure has pockmarks of corruption and massive fraud and waste on development projects. But none of that bothered New York voters and probably won’t be major impediments in the primaries.

Cuomo, a prodigious fundraiser, mostly ignored Molinaro to focus on President Trump, as if auditioning for 2020. He and the president used to be pals and, truth be told, there is something Trumpian about Cuomo’s my-way-or-the-highway personality.

But it is his father who hangs over the governor, politically and personally. Their relationship was seriously troubled at times, with Mario conservative with compliments and liberal with criticism. One longtime family friend calls it “brutal.”

The governor alluded to difficulties last September. He rammed through a plan to change the name of the new Tappan Zee Bridge to the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, a move both bold and cheesy.

There remains opposition to the change because it removes a name that evoked Dutch settlers and local Native American tribes. Even Cuomo’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, tweeted that “Pop would not have liked this” because he believed public service is “supposed to be about the we, not the me.”

Still, the governor turned the event into a memorial for his ­father and, with his mother, sisters and daughters in attendance, spoke of their relationship.

“My father was not overly ­expressive emotionally, nor am I,” Cuomo said. “He spoke of love more in an intellectual context than in personal relationships.”

He talked about a visit near the end of Mario’s life. “And I looked in his eyes, and I said, ‘Dad, do you love me?’ And he looked at me, and he stopped, a little taken aback. He exhaled, and he said, ‘I love you so, so, so much.’ ”

The moment was surely not the last time family ties will surface. Andrew’s presidential quest evokes memories of when Mario, the favorite Dem for the 1992 ­nomination, backed out at the last minute.

In December of ’91, he was locked in Albany budget talks as the deadline loomed to file for the New Hampshire primary, and a small plane was waiting to get ­Mario there in time.

Late in the afternoon, he issued a statement saying that, while he was prepared to run, “I cannot turn my attention to New Hampshire while this threat hangs over the head of the New Yorkers I have sworn to put first.”

For weeks after, he teased about jumping into the fray, but never did, a maddening sequence that earned him the tag of “Hamlet on the Hudson.”

For Andrew Cuomo, running for president will not be a case of like father, like son. Sure, he will be coy and protest too much that he has no plans to run, and, like ­Mario, will take both sides of an argument in the same sentence.

But when the time is right, he will get on the plane.

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