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Letitia James Hasn’t Declared In The Race For Governor, But Presents A Strong Challenge

Governor Kathy Hochul with Letitia James
Governor Kathy Hochul
Governor Kathy Hochul with Letitia James and New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio

A poll out this week from Siena College gives Governor Kathy Hochul the edge in a potential Democratic primary in next year’s race for governor.

No other candidates have officially declared, but many observers are watching Attorney General Letitia James. The last two elected governors in New York both served as attorney general before winning the top job in Albany.

Harvey Schantz, professor of political science at SUNY Plattsburgh, spoke with North Country Public Radio’s Ryan Finnerty about what to look for in a possible primary challenge to Hochul.

Schantz: Eliot Spitzer was the attorney general when he won in 2006. And Andrew Cuomo was attorney general when he ran in 2010. So in this instance, we have two Democrats who have statewide ambition to be governor. Kathy Hochul has nowhere to go, but to run for re-election. Letitia James, on the other hand, has a position as attorney general.

So the big question for Leticia James is: is she willing to risk her position as attorney general to run for governor" Because she's been a strong attorney general in the polls, and she can easily win re-election as attorney general. But is she willing to take a risk and potentially lose her job? If she doesn't become governor?

Finnerty: So would you say then we could characterize her recent series of actions taking a statewide tour making a lot of outreach attempts on statewide issues like the opioid crisis? Is this potentially an effort to get her name recognition up and maybe do some polling and see where she stands before making that decision that you described?

Schantz: Yes, she's going around the state. She wants to meet the county leaders across the state. And she wants to get positive news coverage in the local media, to drive up name recognition, and to test the waters to see if her candidacy is viable.

In New York State, you can only run for one office at a time. So before you give up your attorney general position, you want to make certain that you're going to win the governorship.

Finnerty: All things being equal, does Gov. Hochul have the advantage as the incumbent?

Schantz: It's very close. Leticia James is highly favored in some of the early polls. Not in a comparison, but in terms of a favorability. Leticia James has benefited a name recognition because of her role in the Cuomo matter. And that puts her at a higher position.

Finnerty: What would the Republican Party like to see? Is it to the advantage of a Republican candidate in the general election for Letitia James to run in the Democratic primary and have a tough, bruising primary fight on the Democratic side, and possibly give an advantage to a Republican candidate?

Schantz: There's two theories. One theory is that a tough primary weakens a candidate for the general election. On the other hand, if you're in a tough primary, you've accomplished yourself in terms of getting name recognition, getting debate practice, getting out there and campaigning, getting your campaign organization working.

So there's two conflicting theories. But the predominant theory by the Democratic Leader Jacobs and the Republican leader Langworthy is that they want to avoid divisive primaries.

Finnerty: And so, Harvey looking ahead, at what point in time do you think we would expect to hear a decision from Tish James as to either running or to not run and support Gov. Hochul and her bid for re-election?

Schantz: The primaries are coming up in June. But before the primaries come up in June, the political parties will each have their state committee meet to endorse a candidate for governor and to qualify a candidate for governor that would be made, so I would expect a decision by Leticia James and the other prominent candidates to come within two months from now.