In the course of every election cycle emerges a question — often from younger voters — that flusters a candidate, sometimes projecting an awkwardness that alienates him from a potentially critical swath of voters. The political junkie quickly recalls George H.W. Bush caught off guard when asked the price of milk; Bill Clinton claiming not to have inhaled; and John Kerry awkwardly affirming that, yes, he does Google himself. Often, the question manifests the anxieties and societal frontiers of the time.
This election cycle, the question that young voters find most riveting: Has Andrew Cuomo ever had a homosexual experience?
His advisers have been grappling to fashion a response. By the measure of an unpublished proprietary poll conducted by an associate of a well-known Hudson Valley-based consultant, nearly 53% of likely voters between the ages of 18 and 24 acknowledge having had a sexual experience with a friend of the same sex. That number is nearly 20 points higher among likely voters who are enrolled Democrats of the same age range. Those numbers drop off markedly among registered voters over 34 years-old but skew higher among female voters of every age demographic.
Cuomo has denied longstanding rumors, perhaps apocryphal, that he had enjoyed a series of homosexual and quasi-homosexual encounters from 1978 to 1979 with a classmate that was a year ahead of him while an undergraduate at Fordham University. Another suggests that he had a secret seven-month-long relationship during his second year at Albany Law School.
The Chronicle is unable to test the veracity of much of the fodder being circulated among political operatives, but that doesn’t change the difficulty of crafting a response worthy of a Governor who aspires to lead a sexually liberated political party that demands much of its leaders. On the one hand, if he denies ever having had a same-sex coming of age experience outright he could be cast as a homophobe, intolerant, or insincere. On the other hand, if he acknowledges such experiences, he could alienate older working-class men and, perhaps, soften his support from organized labor.
A growing faction of the Governor’s team — including Lis Smith, the Governor’s in-house propagandist — believe a well crafted and emotively delivered response to the question could be an enormous opportunity for Cuomo, who has had trouble satisfying the left flank of his party.
“If the question is posed in the context of a gubernatorial debate — an uncertainty at the moment — and the Governor knocks it out of the ballpark, it could attract national media attention. This is a Governor who wants badly to energize the base of the party ahead of the 2020 presidential primary,” explains one Cuomo loyalist who asked not be named.
“This could be an opportunity for Cuomo to be seen as hip and at the vanguard of the progressive movement — if he can pull it off rhetorically,” the longtime consultant argues. “It’s a predicament that Mario Cuomo, with all of his oratorical skill, avoided in 1992. But times have changed, so we’ll see if this is the generation that kicks the door open on this issue.”
The Governor has refused to debate his Republican opponent Marc Molinaro, some speculate because he expects this very question.