Three Governor Primaries to Watch Over Next Three Days

Two Democratic governors face challengers, while a Republican incumbent awaits his general-election matchup.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shakes hands with Democratic New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon before their debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Aug. 29.
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, Pool
Madelaine Pisani
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Madelaine Pisani
Sept. 10, 2018, 8 p.m.

Primary season concludes this week as three governors in three days move one step closer to what they hope is another term.

Democrats Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and Andrew Cuomo of New York face challenges from their left flanks, while Republican Chris Sununu of New Hampshire is unopposed as he waits to see which of two Democrats will advance.

Here is the week in governor primaries.

Tuesday: New Hampshire

Polls suggest Sununu is well-positioned to win a second two-year term, regardless of the Democratic primary outcome. Former state Sen. Molly Kelly is the better-funded favorite for the nomination over former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand. Both call themselves progressives, though Marchand, having never held office in Concord, argued that he is a true outsider progressive, while Kelly, who enjoys the backing of several state party leaders, is the establishment pick. While Republicans are confident, Democrats hope whoever wins Tuesday can tie Sununu to President Trump and ride a midterm wave against the president’s party. That’s probably their best hope against an incumbent with an approval rating above 60 percent. Neither Democrat has managed to catch fire ahead of a late primary that leaves just weeks to build the necessary momentum and war chest to compete.

Wednesday: Rhode Island

In her bid for a second term, Raimondo must fend off former Secretary of State Matt Brown before facing the likely Republican nominee, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, in a rematch from 2014. Though Raimondo has had to contend with low job approval ratings and frequent criticism from Democrats that she’s too cozy with corporations, Brown didn’t have the resources to make the primary a closer fight.

The narrative shifted when, just over a week before the primary, rumors of tightening internal polls and a Raimondo ad attacking Brown fueled speculation that he may be surging. Raimondo allies called the ad an insurance policy, but others view it as evidence that she is worried. National Democrats have sent reinforcements to Raimondo, the Democratic Governors Association vice chairwoman, with former Vice President Joe Biden endorsing her Saturday and the DGA investing $1 million in a pro-Raimondo PAC in July.

The consensus on the ground remains that a Raimondo defeat is unlikely, but the margin might be closer than some anticipated. For Republicans, the closer this primary fight is and the more money that Raimondo spends fending off attacks from members of her own party, the better.

Thursday: New York

Cuomo’s bid for a third term looks promising, with a commanding lead in the polls, a war chest that allowed him to spend $16 million in two months, and institutional support from the Democratic Party. Actress Cynthia Nixon, backed by the Working Families Party, Our Revolution, and the New York chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, points to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise primary victory against Rep. Joe Crowley as evidence that New York might be amenable to boosting another outsider candidate. Ocasio-Cortez and Cuomo’s 2014 primary opponent, attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout, have joined Nixon on the trail.

Unlike Raimondo, Cuomo’s campaign rarely acknowledges Nixon and only agreed to one debate nestled over Labor Day weekend, when few voters would tune in. Instead, the focus of Cuomo’s campaign has been speaking out against Trump. Much of the campaign’s spending went to promoting the narrative that Cuomo’s governing experience and bullish style allow him to push back on the administration.

Nixon’s greatest impact will likely be the degree to which she has pulled Cuomo to the left, motivating him to embrace legalizing recreational marijuana, banning single-use plastic bags, and restoring voting rights to felons.

Republican Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro and independent former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who considered taking on Cuomo in the primary, will meet the winner in November.

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