New York’s Democratic gubernatorial primary between the two-term governor and the actress-activist has been heated from the very beginning. Wednesday night’s debate at Hofstra University was no different, with the candidates sparring on a number of issues, including New York City’s deteriorating subway system, Cuomo’s record on progressive issues, and the best way to combat the Trump administration.
Trailing in the polls, Nixon made the most of her one opportunity to go head-to-head against Cuomo. She threw punch after punch, attacking Cuomo for his ties to corrupt aides and politicians; for his alleged role in propping up a Republican-led state Senate; and for his failure to push progressive priorities more forcefully through Albany, such as protecting undocumented immigrants. Every time Cuomo touted an accomplishment, Nixon attempted to undercut it, making the case that the governor’s record wasn’t nearly as progressive as he claimed it was.
Nixon appeared to get under Cuomo’s skin. His strategy going in was to play rope-a-dope, while making the case that he was not just a progressive, but a progressive who got things done. But he quickly grew irritated and the debate frequently descended into the two candidates accusing each other of lying. Cuomo seemed to think he had an ace up his sleeve—that Nixon filed taxes as an S-corporation, suggesting she was something of a tax cheat—but it didn’t quite work as he expected:
The debate was a microcosm of the primary thus far. Nixon’s strategy was to hammer Cuomo again and again on his ties to New York’s corrupt politics and for being an obstacle to progressive policies. Her own policy agenda was secondary. Cuomo was annoyed and dismissive, but ultimately stuck to his script: New York should stay the course with a governor who legalized gay marriage and beefed up gun control, among other things. Nixon landed blow after blow, but Cuomo stayed on his feet.