Malcolm-Wiley Floyd, Staff Writer
Ideology: Moderate Democrat | Writing From: Harvard University
President Barack Obama has many duties in his life. People spend a lot of time and energy debating and evaluating his efforts as our nation’s chief executive, and as commander-in-chief. However, he is also the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, and it is in this role that he asked New York Governor David Paterson not to seek reelection next year.
To be frank, the Obama Administration’s lack of confidence in Paterson is certainly understandable. Since he did not rise to the governorship through popular election, Patterson doesn’t have one of the key advantages of being an incumbent: having already been elected. Furthermore, the debacle in the New York State Senate earlier this year was a massive embarrassment to his Administration. Paterson waited far too long to act, and when he eventually did, he was ineffectual. The State now lies mired in a fiscal catastrophe. The people of New York have noticed his failures. According to a Marist poll from early this month, his approval ratings are at an abysmal 20%, the lowest ever recorded for a state governor. Considering these facts, it is reasonable that the Obama administration hardly considers Paterson a lock for reelection.
Paterson’s potential challenger, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, is another reason for the President and his team to doubt Governor Paterson. Though Giuliani’s campaign for President was unsuccessful in 2008, he certainly had bright spots in the debates, and most importantly, he reentered the public sphere. He is still widely popular in New York, especially among downstate voters who remember his crackdown on crime and the relative economic success the city felt under his leadership. Giuliani’s fame and popular support upend another traditional advantage for the incumbent. In fact, polls predict Giuliani would thrash Paterson in a general election by 15 percentage points.
It’s especially hard to support the unpopular Paterson considering that the State’s Democratic Attorney-General, Andrew Cuomo, is far more popular. A poll by the Siena Research Fund demonstrated that Cuomo is the front-runner for the governorship, beating Paterson by a rate of 3:1. Paterson has even implied in interviews that he felt Cuomo might have been involved in the Obama administration’s decision to ask Paterson not to run. In light of Paterson’s weakness and his foes’ relative strength and popularity, it makes sense that the Obama administration is looking for another horse to bet on.
However, this all begs the question: When did Barack Obama become a gambler?
It is understandable why the president has interest in the outcome of the New York Governorship election. If voters choose to vote Republican at the top of the ballot, they’ll likely vote Republican all the way down, putting House Democrats in New York in tough positions, especially those from right-leaning districts like Rep. Michael McMahon D-NY. Not surprisingly, McMahon has expressed approval with the Administration’s decision to ask Paterson to drop out. Still, bullying an ally is a questionable response to Paterson’s weakness. At its core, it is a defensive move on the part of the Obama Administration, which reveals their insecurity in the upcoming election, even in the blue haven that is the Empire State.
Despite falling approval ratings and slowed progress with legislative reform, Obama and the Democrats can’t resort to defensive tactics such as this. In 2008, when the Democrats routed the Republicans, they did so with aggressive, offensive political strategy. Instead of concentrating resources on swing states and defending traditionally blue states, they attacked former Republican strongholds, a strategy that DNC chairman Howard Dean has dubbed the “50 state strategy.” This strategy gave Obama victory in swing states like Florida and former conservative strongholds like North Carolina. It also gave Democrats surprising victories all over the country, yielding strong majorities in both Houses.
This success should be fresh in the minds of the Democrats and their leader, Barack Obama. Despite Paterson’s weakness, a committed Obama administration could have rallied around Paterson to thwart a Republican challenger, drawing attention to Paterson’s limited successes in recently winning stimulus funds and keeping unemployment below the national average. By imposing his force on friends rather than foes, also demonstrated by the departure of Van Jones, the former Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Barack Obama forfeits the advantage of being on the aggressive. Hopefully, he’ll remember how he got into office by 2010.