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Cuomo, possible 2016 hopeful, keeps a low profile

Associated Press

If New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on the Democrats' short list for president in 2016, he certainly isn't acting like it.

He hasn't been a high-profile surrogate for President Barack Obama. He hasn't campaigned for endangered Democratic congressional candidates since before last June's primary. He barely stopped by the Democratic National Convention, limiting his face time to a breakfast speech to the New York delegation miles from the convention's stage.

Cuomo won't talk about running for president in 2016 and says he's not even thinking about it.

He has said he's too busy with his agenda and a stubborn unemployment rate that continues to hover above the national rate. He's also joked, "I've seen this movie before," referring to the constant speculation that hampered his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. In Albany, even the most ambitious governor plans two full terms before moving toward a presidential run, and the national attraction of an old-name, Northeastern Democrat has been shown to be questionable in recent cycles.

"I'll do what I can to help re-elect President Obama," Cuomo told reporters, "but my job is being governor of the state of New York, and that's a job that's done in the state of New York."

Some of those closest to him swear he's not going to run in 2016, although few if any believe them. But if he's trying to fly under the radar as a potential presidential candidate, it's working. And some observers say that might be by design.

"It's smart," said Hank Sheinkopf, a national political strategist who worked for the Clinton administration. "Looking at a quiet role at the convention doesn't mean Andrew Cuomo isn't interested in 2016. It means Governor Cuomo is avoiding controversy and too much exposure too soon ... Why get into the headlines when you don't have to? Get your job done."

It's a diversion from the road other talked-about 2016 possibilities appear to be headed down.

Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley was everywhere at the convention, raising expectations for his possible 2016 bid. A week before, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave a rousing keynote address that left little doubt he knows he's ready for the Oval Office. They both frequent the Sunday news shows and Christie has been a stalwart on the campaign trail for Mitt Romney, showing up in must-visit presidential states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Colorado.

In the battle for getting noticed outside their states during their conventions, Christie was the featured subject of newspaper stories 714 times, O'Malley 130 times, and Cuomo 26 times, according to an Associated Press analysis of stories published during their convention. That's skewed a bit because Cuomo and Christie benefit from New York's greater number of newspapers, but the figures roughly reflect the greater attention pundits online and in broadcast gave O'Malley and Christie.

It's not as though Cuomo is ignoring national politics. He hosted a fundraiser for Obama last year and is expected to campaign for the president this fall. He's also made some congressional endorsements, including one for Harlem mainstay Charles Rangel during a tough primary made dicey because of ethics questions hanging over the veteran congressman.

And he still has time this election cycle to campaign for Obama or for congressional candidates -- he tends to make late endorsements when his name can add some momentum.

Cuomo, however, isn't like Christie or O'Malley. He hails from a big state with a nearly 2-to-1 Democratic voter registration advantage and has huge favorability ratings, even from most Republicans. He already has national name recognition from his father's turn as a Democratic icon in the 1980s and his work in every state as Bill Clinton's housing and urban development secretary. In April, Cuomo was among Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. He lives in the nation's media capital.

He can raise millions of dollars easily from rich enclaves in Manhattan and Hollywood as the man who legalized gay marriage in New York. TV ads for the state are voiced by Robert DeNiro. While other candidates pipe in rousing rock ballads at fundraisers, Cuomo gets Jon Bon Jovi, in person.

His brief convention appearance speech rocked with a national sweep that sold New York's story of revival as a template for the nation. Cuomo talked about how New York was coming back as not just the progressive capital of the nation, but one that's now open for business with more tax incentives and reduced regulations.

Cuomo has been a well-regarded political strategist since his 20s, when he was a top adviser to his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. The elder Cuomo gave a soaring speech at the 1984 national convention that cemented his national stature, but also made governing for the next decade more complicated and the "will he or won't he" act marked the last years of his tenure. He was dubbed "Hamlet on the Hudson."

Cuomo also faces a potential hurdle in a way others don't: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband, the wildly popular ex-president, has been a key to Cuomo's presidential cache. Were she to run again, Cuomo would lose any fundraising or campaigning help that Bill Clinton could offer. And Hillary Clinton is more accomplished and popular than ever, and ripe for drafting for a run.

And if  Obama loses this November, he is also eligible to run again in 2016.

Pollster Steven Greenberg of Siena College sums it up succinctly, even though he's as baffled as everybody else.

"I could make the argument based on everything that I've seen that he is going run," he said, "and I can make the argument that he isn't going to run."

Michael Benjamin, a former Democratic assemblyman from New York City and now a political commentator, notes the 54-year-old Cuomo also has family concerns. Right now, Cuomo's live-in girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee, and his teenage daughters are a 45-minute flight away from Albany and he spends most days with his daughters. A national campaign would take time away from them.

"His dad peaked too early and probably felt the media pressure," Benjamin said. "I think Andrew Cuomo constantly assesses his own presidential caliber. He may not be ready in his mind."

September 14, 2012 - 11:56am


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