By James Bliss
So, I asked a co-worker if he could name the candidate running against Governor Andrew Cuomo in the upcoming gubernatorial election. He could not. In fact, he didn't even know that Cuomo was up for re-election in 2014. In part, this demonstrates this particular co-worker's complacency with modern politics. He pays no attention to it and has a strong distaste for both of the main political parties, as well as for ... well, any politician. I get it. But, it also shows Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino's difficulty in getting his name out to New Yorkers across the state. I have a feeling his luck is about to change, for better or worse.
Astorino is not exactly a heavy-hitter on the national scene. His website offers a short resume including and seemingly limited to second term Westchester county executive. The county of Westchester doesn't exactly paint his image as an "upstate-er." The inexperienced and sadly underfunded candidate is trailing Gov. Cuomo by some 37 percent in the latest Sienna poll.
This week, his campaign made some noise, to say the least, and garnered some national media attention. Bad publicity is still publicity, I suppose. It all started with comments from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is also head of the Republican Governors Association, a group that promotes Republican candidates for governor. While out campaigning in Connecticut, Mr. Christie stated, "We don't pay for landslides and we don't invest in lost causes." Well, looking at his poll numbers and recognizing the similarities, Mr. Astorino took offense to that and swung back at Christie, a political heavyweight at this point with rumors of a 2016 shot at the White House. Astorino needs all the help he can get and it is pretty rough getting denied just one little three-hour campaign stop from the head of the RGA. He really laid it on the line suggesting that Mr. Christie should resign as chair of the RGA.
Not only that, Mr. Astorino took things a step further by throwing in a knock on the "Bridge Scandal" that has previously haunted Christie, but had recently seemed forgotten. Astorino suggested that perhaps it was "inconvenient [for Mr. Christie] to come over the bridge to New York to help a Republican candidate here." I give him credit for both his humor and his brazenness. It's like tossing salt on a wound.
Time will tell if such antics lead to a rise in his popularity, or a continued dismissal. But one thing's for sure, with that extra little dig on Christie's scandal, Mr. Astorino will not be getting much support from the RGA. Though, they did agree to chip in if the race became competitive, but that doesn't look too promising. Aside from horrific poll numbers, Astorino's campaign suffers from a lack of name recognition and funding. Gov. Cuomo's financial advantage is as embarrassing to Astorino as the polls.
Rob Astorino isn't exactly a stranger to ruffling feathers within his own party. Back in June of this year, he upset Dean Skelos of the state Senate by calling out the amount of corruption in the state legislative process. Rather than choosing such Republican themes as tax breaks, gutting government spending, or deregulation as his first priority, Astorino unveiled a package including ethics reform, term limits, and an overhaul of the state's ancient campaign finance laws. These are not top priorities for most of today's Republican candidates and his proposal did not draw cheers from the Tea Party here in New York.
This unusual and boisterous approach could be a double-edged sword for the young politician. He has rebuked many a hand that could support him, like the Tea Party back in June. Yet, this type of national attention may drum up financial support, depending on how the Republican Party reacts to his behavior. I guess the question is this: Is he really a maverick? Or is it just another political stunt to snag votes? The average resident of upstate New York barely knows his name, let alone what his priorities are. His campaign has a lot of work to do in the months ahead. One thing seems certain; he'll be slugging it out with Cuomo on his own terms.
James Bliss is a Jamestown resident who studied literature and philosophy at Florida State University.