ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo cruised to a win Thursday in the Democratic primary for governor, easily warding off a challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon as she tried to position herself as a more-progressive alternative.
The Associated Press called the race for Cuomo at 9:27 p.m., less than a half hour after polls closed.
Cuomo’s easy victory allows him to continue his bid for a third term and sets up a November battle with Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor.
The race between Cuomo and Nixon, the actor and activist best known for her starring role in Sex and the City, headlined New York's state and local primary elections, which were moved to Thursday to avoid conflicts with Rosh Hashanah and Sept. 11.
Cuomo ran on a record he says positions himself as a national progressive leader and a leading opponent of President Donald Trump, who Cuomo has taken to criticizing at campaign and government events across the state.
Nixon, who polls show is a clear underdog, challenged Cuomo from his left, pointing to the more moderate or fiscally conservative positions he’s held during his term in office.
She faulted him for not doing more to push policies favored by progressives — such as single-payer health care and marijuana legalization — and tolerating a Republican-led Senate during his eight years in office.
The candidates cast their ballots Thursday morning — Nixon in her home borough of Manhattan; Cuomo in the Westchester County town of New Castle, where he lives.
"I believe that my administration has started a very important, positive and progressive agenda," Cuomo told reporters after casting his ballot.
"I want to continue doing it."
In an interview Thursday on public radio's Capitol Pressroom, Nixon said her candidacy was part of a national progressive movement spurred in part by the rise of Trump.
"I think this is a movement to make sure that the Democratic Party is not just a kinder, gentler, more-diverse version of the Republican Party," Nixon said.
"People do not show up when we're not clear on who we are and what we fight for."
The Cuomo-Nixon race was one of three statewide, Democratic primary battles on the ballot Thursday, along with a four-way race for attorney general and a lieutenant governor primary between Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (Cuomo's running mate) and Jumaane Williams (Nixon's running mate).
Reports from throughout the state suggested voter turnout was far stronger than it was in 2014, when just 10 percent of enrolled Democrats turned out to vote in the primary between Cuomo and Zephyr Teachout.
In Monroe County, for example, turnout was at 22 percent as of 8 p.m., according to the county Board of Elections. In 2014, turnout was about 9 percent after all ballots were counted.
In the 2014 race, Cuomo won about two-thirds of the vote against Teachout, a then-unknown Fordham Law professor making her first run for office.
Cuomo left nothing to chance this year, when insurgent progressives have scored upsets in several races nationwide, including congressional primaries in New York City’s outer boroughs and in Massachusetts.
A prodigious campaign fundraiser, Cuomo’s campaign spent $21.4 million from mid-January through early September, blanketing the television airwaves with advertisements touting his record, including the passage of same-sex marriage, a higher minimum wage and tougher gun-control laws.
Nixon spent less than 10 percent of that, spending about $2 million over the same time period.
New York has a split primary system for federal and state elections, meaning contested congressional primaries were already decided in June.
As they cast their ballots in the morning, the candidates urged primary voters to get to the polls.
"We've been seeing in elections not a lot of people turning out, and that is just bad for democracy," Cuomo said.
"It only works if you come out and you participate."
Cuomo will now face Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, in the fall along with at least three third-party candidates.
The loser of the Democratic primary could also chose to continue running in the fall on a third party line — Nixon on the Working Families Party line; Cuomo on the Independent or Women's Equality Party line — if they so choose.
Neither candidate on Thursday was willing to entertain the question.
"This is not a question for today," Nixon said.
"I am really focused on getting out the vote. I know our progressive voters are out there and we just need to make sure they are getting out to the polls."