Columbia professor Tim Wu is currently running for lieutenant governor, a position that holds so little power and responsibility that the incumbent, Bob Duffy, decided not to run for reelection because he was so sick at the prospect of traveling across the state another four years. In looking to shore up his upstate base, Andrew Cuomo replaced him on the ticket with Kathy Hochul, a conservative pro-gun Democrat whose public profile seems eminently fit for the position. So why, a week before the Democratic primary has attention shifted to Wu, the man who coined the term "net neutrality," and whose running mate, Zephyr Teachout, lags far behind Cuomo in the polls? Because Wu could cause Cuomo a whole lot of headaches, starting with a serious number of votes in the general election.
Wu, who was endorsed by the New York Times last week (a step the paper balked at making with Teachout), is beginning to garner considerable name recognition ahead of what will most likely be a tremendously low-turnout primary election. Faced with a decision between Hochul (zero buzz) and Wu (NY Times endorsement!) voters might actually choose Wu, setting up a very uncomfortable Cuomo-Wu ticket for the November general election.
Besides positioning Wu one sex scandal away from the governorship (assuming Cuomo wins reelection), a Wu primary victory creates two separate Cuomo tickets: the Democratic ticket, with Cuomo/Wu, and the Cuomo/Hochul ticket on the Working Families Party, Independence Party, and Women’s Equality Party lines. None of the smaller parties hold a primary, keeping the Cuomo/Hochul ticket intact.
Under state law any votes for the Cuomo/Hochul ticket would not be added to the presumably larger tally for Cuomo/Wu, costing Cuomo thousands of votes in what could be an incredibly depressed voter turnout.
So why won't those smaller parties, all of whom already endorsed Cuomo, just tell their members to vote on the Democratic line instead? Because these parties need a minimum of 50,000 votes to guarantee their ballot line for the next four years. That ballot line is no joke to these smaller parties, who would resist any effort to jeopardize their standing.
The Working Families Party certainly stands to gain from the addition of Wu to the ticket, which would give a bonafide progressive a statewide presence and set him up for a possible 2018 run for governor. Given the contentious process that led to their endorsement of Cuomo earlier this year, they're probably not looking to do the governor any favors, including telling their voters to vote along the Democratic line.
Since a report in the Post yesterday claimed that Cuomo operatives were looking into scenarios wherein Cuomo could dump Hochul from the ticket, Cuomo has reiterated his support for his running mate, telling Newsday that "Kathy Hochul is going to win the ticket in the race for lieutenant governor. People understand lieutenant governor could become governor, and experience really matters." He also said, in reference to the possibility of a Cuomo/Wu ticket that "It's not going to happen."
According to the Post, his staff isn't so sure. If Wu wins the primary, Cuomo has until September 16th to nominate Hochul for a judgeship, which would legally take her off the ticket and allow him to name a replacement. For the sake of his campaign, and to garner as many votes as possible, it would most likely have to be Wu.