Finley: Path opens for Dems to draft Cuomo

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Fourteen states have canceled their presidential primaries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more are likely to do so.

The delays give Democrats the time and opportunity to draft a nominee with broader appeal and a better chance of winning in November than either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

Biden is the current presumptive nominee, and until two weeks ago was the best Democrats could muster. But the coronavirus outbreak has changed everything. Biden’s flaws are magnified as he struggles to express a coherent message about the virus, turning instead to partisan attacks, the last thing Americans are interested in at the moment. 

Enthusiasm for the former vice president among Democratic voters is alarmingly low. Democrats can’t just count on anti-Donald Trump sentiment to drive turnout in November; they need a candidate voters are excited to support. That’s not Biden.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in New York.

But it might be Andrew Cuomo. The New York governor has risen to the top of the pack among the politicians who are daily addressing the crisis before a national audience. He's been reassuring, forceful, reasonable and, well, presidential. And voters are noticing

“He’s stayed above the fray,” says David Dulio, political science chair at Oakland University. “He's not been partisan; he talks about the need for national unity. That’s a message a lot of people respond to. There’s definitely a case to be made for the viability and electability of Andrew Cuomo in a general election.”

But can he get on the ballot?

Cuomo has his hands full managing the crisis in New York, which stands now as the hardest hit state. He can’t depart Albany for the campaign trail.

Dulio says the pandemic provides an avenue for him without formally entering the race, particularly if states can’t get their primaries and caucuses in before the Democratic National Convention opens in Milwaukee on July 13.

In that case, it would be impossible for either Biden or Sanders to arrive at the convention with the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination outright. Biden has 1,217 delegates and Sanders has 914.

Nominating rules are set by the party, Dulio notes, and the parties can change them. 

“If Democrats wanted to,” he says, “they could make it happen.”

It would be a big undertaking, but Democrats could change their state party rules to bypass popular votes and select their delegates in a more streamlined, insider process, and then free them to vote for whomever they please at the convention.

“There’s some sentiment, not big enough to call it a groundswell, for drafting Cuomo,” Dulio says. 

Fears the 77-year-old Biden will collapse under the strain of the general election campaign, or that the media will stop ignoring allegations of sexual assault leveled by a former staffer, have Democrats worried they'll blow their chance of unseating Trump.

“A candidate who’s been more in the spotlight and one who has shown some real chops to deal with the virus might be very appealing to a lot of Americans,” Dulio says.

And now, thanks to the pandemic, there’s a path to the ballot for that candidate.

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