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Poll finds Hochul is 'front-runner' in governor's race

Governor Hochul's office

A new Marist College poll finds that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul -- who’s been in office for less than two months after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace -- is the front-runner for election next year.

Hochul, who was virtually unknown to New Yorkers before she took over from Cuomo on Aug. 24, has a 55% approval rating, according to the poll. Lee Miringoff, director of polling, said 49% believe the new governor is doing a good job in office.

“It’s fair to say that she is entering an election season as the early front-runner,” Miringoff said. "With others, including former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as underdogs.”

Cuomo has not ruled out trying to seek his old job back. He has $18 million in a campaign war chest. And he and his attorneys continue to defend the former governor against state Attorney General Tish James’ report that found he sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo’s lawyers are also asking federal prosecutors to drop a probe into whether he and his top aides hid nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miringoff said if the former governor runs, he faces a steep challenge. About three-quarters of New Yorkers, including 74% of Democrats, don’t want him back in the governor’s mansion.

“These numbers are not good,” said Miringoff, who added Cuomo would have to develop a new rationale for a viable campaign.

Other potential candidates include New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has launched an exploratory committee and was touring upstate on Tuesday.

James is also said to be considering a run. Like Williams, James has also embarked on a statewide series of visits to New York City boroughs, Long Island and upstate to distribute funds from the state’s settlements with opioid manufacturers.

James, at an event in Albany on Oct. 5, did not directly answer questions from reporters on whether her tour was a prelude to a campaign announcement.

“I’m not focused on politics,” James said.

The poll shows Democratic voters are open to electing both James and Williams. Close to 60 percent view the attorney general favorably. And while nearly half like Williams, he is relatively unknown to voters, with 42% saying they don’t know enough about him.

The poll finds, though, that in a potential Democratic primary race with other candidates -- including James, Williams and Cuomo -- Hochul is ahead by double digits.

The governor, who has already announced her intention to run in 2022, has been holding fundraisers, including with deep-pocketed donors. She has said little publicly about her campaign or potential opponents, saying she prefers to focus on her job right now.

“I will not be distracted, because that is not good for the people of New York," Hochul said on Oct. 5 in response to a request from Democratic State Party Chair Jay Jacobs that other potential candidates “hold their powder” and give Hochul a chance to establish herself in the job.

And while the poll finds that most New Yorkers approve of the governor’s handling of the pandemic and the state’s economy so far, more than half also believe the state is headed in the wrong direction.

Miringoff said that can be a danger sign for an incumbent politician’s future prospects.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.