For the second time this week, the White House has chosen sides in a budding Democratic primary, following his selection of Colorado incumbent Senator Michael Bennet over challenger Andrew Romanoff. But this time, Obama is throwing his weight in the other direction, telling the current officeholder in the New York state house, Governor David Paterson, to stand down in 2010.
Paterson has been plagued by plummeting approval ratings ever since he took office following the resignation of former Governor Eliot Spitzer in the wake of the latter's involvement in a prostitution scandal. Paterson started his abbreviated term as the first African American chief executive in Empire State history, and the first blind governor in American history at well over 60%. According to the latest poll conducted by Marist, Paterson's approval rating now rests at a paltry 20%. The percentage of New Yorkers who disapprove of Paterson's performance has been measured at three times that number (60%).
According to a report in the New York Times, Paterson was approached by Queens-area Democratic Representative and Obama ally Gregory Meeks, who informed the Governor that President Obama and the Administration wanted him not to stand for election to a full term in 2010. The message came just days after Paterson made his intentions to run quite clear by hiring a full campaign staff for the upcoming year. But top White House officials fearing that Paterson's presence in the election could risk delivering the governor's mansion into the hands of Republican convinced Obama to urge Paterson to step aside. Rep. Meeks informed the Governor that the message had been signed off on by Obama himself.
Still, Paterson remains defiant. During a march to honor African American Day in Harlem, Paterson told the crowd, "I have said time and time again that I am running for governor next year." He refused to discuss the details of his conversation with the White House and Rep. Meeks.
The move has huge implications for everyone involved.
For Obama, it marks the second time in a few short days that he's taken sides in a Democratic primary. But even coming out in support of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet was predictable, with Bennet an incumbent facing a tough bid for reelection. In this case, Obama isn't just picking sides, he's forcing out an incumbent who otherwise might be given deference by the party establishment in a primary contest. Obama's move cements his position as leader of the national party, and a bold one at that. And because he's refusing to back one of just two African American governors nationwide (the other being Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) he's bound to catch some flack.
For Paterson, it's essentially a death knell. He doesn't have the support of his constituents. He doesn't have the support of his president. How can he win in a situation like that?
For one man, this is all good news. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has stayed mum, saying he has no plans to run for governor. But Cuomo- whose father Mario is a former Governor and lion of the Democratic Party- is seen by many to have a future in top level statewide office in New York, and this would be the perfect opportunity. Even if Paterson remained in the race, polling shows that Cuomo would crush him, 61%-27% according to an early summer poll by Rasmussen Reports. Moreover, similar polling shows that Cuomo is the only candidate who could beat all possible Republican challengers, including former governor George Pataki, former Congressman Rick Lazio, who has declared his candidacy, and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is said to be considering a bid of his own. Paterson would lose handily to all three.
The move from the White House may essentially be a green light for Cuomo to take Paterson out early. Whether Cuomo acts on it is yet to be seen, but expect quite a bit more out of this race.