ALBANY – Letitia James’ entry into the gubernatorial race completely changes the dynamics of the Democratic primary, sets up multiple constituency battles within the party, impacts other potential candidates and gives her a chance to make history, experts said.
James, New York’s attorney general, announced on Friday that she would run for governor, facing Gov. Kathy Hochul in a Democratic primary – and possibly others.
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York public attorney Jumaane Williams and Suffolk County Director Steve Bellone are among those considering running. James’ decision could have an impact on whether some or all of the others get involved, as well as the electoral strategy pursued by each candidate.
âBasically it will open it all wide open,â said Michael Dawidziak, a Long Island political consultant who works primarily with Republicans.
âThis is going to show a lot of divisions within the Democratic Party: progressives versus moderates. Upstate versus downstate. Suburbs versus city,â Dawidziak said. “You are going to have a lot of tensions that have been simmering for a long time in the primary.”
James, 62, a Brooklyn resident, enters the race with a profile heightened by his investigations into former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo – which led to his resignation in August – and former President Donald Trump.
She has a base in the lower state of Brooklyn – voters in the lower state typically account for 50 to 55 percent of the vote cast in a Democratic primary. She will challenge Hochul of the political left and even highlighted his progressive credentials in her launch statement.
But she’ll face a sitting governor, who has racked up plenty of endorsements and a good number of polls even though she’s been in office just two months since Cuomo stepped down.
“She deserved it,” Jay Jacobs, the state’s Democratic president, said recently of his support for Hochul, the 63-year-old Democrat from Buffalo.
Hochul served as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor for eight years, but was never close to him – he even publicly tried to persuade him to run for another post in 2018. She has traveled the state several times. and knows the communities and the issues, Jacobs said. Plus, he thinks she could win the support of moderate and progressive Democrats.
She had a moderate reputation as a term congressman and Erie County clerk, but gradually moved to the political left after being elected lieutenant governor in 2014.
“I predict there will be a lot, a lot of people running,” Hochul said Friday at an event outside of Elmira. “I look forward to a very robust campaign.”
The new governor has been traveling seemingly every day since taking office – and artfully. The Buffalo News recently reported that nearly two-thirds of Hochul’s public appearances were in the upstate as she sought to make herself known.
Hochul is New York’s first female governor. But James’ supporters point out that she has a chance to be the first black female governor in U.S. history.
James is a formidable candidate, but always takes a risk, said Robert Spitzer, professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York in Cortland.
âHochul worked really hard, raised a lot of money,â said Spitzer. “If she thinks Hochul is child’s play, I think she’s making a mistake.”
One key might be which candidates the main unions – always a huge factor in Democratic campaigns – are supporting. Some could miss the primary. But with the support of, say, the teachers’ unions or the SEIU / 1199, the powerful union of healthcare workers could tip the race.
“It doesn’t matter who comes out of the primary, the unions are going to support this Democrat in the general election, so they can take a wait-and-see stance on this,” Dawidziak said.
Additionally, James’ candidacy for governor creates a wide open race for his current job.
Among those mentioned as possible candidates are Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales and State Senator Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria). Zephyr Teachout, a law professor and favorite of many progressives, has already filed a campaign committee to run for office. Previously, she had run unsuccessfully for governor, attorney general and congressional posts.
Finally, there’s the question of whether a heated Democratic primary would hurt the party and help anyone emerging from the Republican side, which also includes several candidates, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
Many Democrats play down such a scenario, noting that the party has a 2-1 registration advantage over the GOP and has not lost any statewide office election since 2002.
“Certainly everyone has the right to choose the primary,” said Jacobs, who this fall urged other Democrats to refrain from challenging Hochul and rallying behind the new governor. “I just hope the party comes out strong.”