On the eve of the State Democratic & Republican conventions, pundits are exclaiming that the polls predicting a decisive fight for the Republican nomination for Governor and an easy win for Eliot Spitzer among Democrats means that the GOP is doomed this year.
Without getting into whether polls this early should be believed, I’d like to look back and try to see if hard-fought Statewide Primaries for Governor or Senator have hurt, helped or made no difference to candidates.
1968 – Democrats chose Paul O’Dwyer in a 3-way Primary to face Republican Senator Jacob Javits, who did not have Primary. Javits was considered the overwhelming favorite all year and the Democratic Primary had a low-turnout and not very exciting. Javits did win by over 1 million votes.
1970 – Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg won the Democratic nomination for Governor over businessman Howard Samuels. The Primary was closer than expected but not particularly bitter. Goldberg started the year as the favorite over Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who did not have a Primary but proved to be a pretty terrible candidate and Rocky won big.
Congressman Richard Ottinger won a 4-way Democratic Primary for Senator. Like the Governor’s race, the Primary was not nasty. Ottinger was favored over appointed Republican Senator Charles Goodell in part because people thought Conservative Party candidate James Buckley would take enough votes away from Goodell and help Ottinger. It turned out Buckley took away enough votes that he won, with Ottinger running 2nd and Goodell 3rd.
1974 – Democratic Congressman Hugh Carey easily beat Howard Samuels in the Primary for Governor and then won a landslide victory over Governor Malcolm Wilson, who did not have a Primary.
Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark won a 4-way Democratic Primary for Senator. Like 1968, Republican Senator Jacob Javits, who did not have Primary was considered the overwhelming favorite all year and won in November.
1976 – The first year that both Parties had Primaries with Senator Buckley easily win the Republican Primary over Congressman Peter Peyser and Daniel Moynihan winning the closest statewide Primary in State history over Bella Abzug, The Democratic primary was so bitter that Abzug threatened not to support Moynihan in November. She did endorse Moynihan without much enthusiasm and he won the General election with ease.
1978 – Governor Carey, after trailing in the Primary and General Election polls easily defeated Lt, Governor Mary Ann Krupsak in the Primary and Assemblyman Perry Duryea in November. Duryea did not have a Primary.
1980 – Senator Javits was upset by Al D’Amato in the Republican Primary in a nasty campaign. Javits continued running as the Liberal candidate. Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman won a 3-way Democratic Primary. Most observers feel that Javits staying in the General campaign helped rather than hurt D’Amato, who won a very close election
1982 – Mario Cuomo neat Ed Koch in the famous Democratic contest for Governor. The campaign had its dirty moments but Koch quickly endorsed Cuomo. Businessman Lew Lehrman easily won the Republican Primary. Cuomo beat Lehrman in a surprisingly close election.
Senator Moynihan had two nuisance Primary opponents who he easily beat. He was never considered vulnerable to the Republicans and he clobbered Assemblywoman Florence Sullivan who won a 3-way Republican Primary.
1986 – There were no Primaries for Governor that year.
Mark Green upset millionaire John Dyson Senator in the Democratic Primary for Senator. Senator D’Amato, who had no Republican Primary opponent was never considered to be vulnerable and easily won re-election.
1988 – Senator Moynihan had no Primary and then had a record breaking win in November over Robert McMillan, who also had no Primary.
1990 – Once again, there were no Primaries for Governor in either Primary.
1992 – This is the election that people are thinking of when they claim that Primaries are bad for Parties. Attorney General Bob Abrams won a close contest over Geraldine Ferraro, who did not endorse Abrams until late in the campaign. Despite that Abrams was ahead in all polls up until Election Day when Senator D’Amato cam from behind and was re-elected.
1994 – Governor Cuomo had no Primary opponent but was upset by George Pataki who won a Republican Primary.
Senator Moynihan easily beat Al Sharpton in the Democratic Primary and then easily won in November over heiress Bernadette Castro who had no Primary.
1998- There were no Republican Primaries for Governor Pataki or Senator D’Amato.
Peter Vallone won the Democratic Primary for Governor and lost to Pataki.
Chuck Schumer came from behind to win the Democratic Senate Primary and despite predictions all year that it would be like 1992, all his opponents supported Schumer immediately and he easily beat D’Amato.
2000 – Hillary Clinton had a minor Primary opponent and Republican Rick Lazio had no Primary. I think you remember what happened then.
2002 – Governor Pataki had no Primary and the easily beat Carl McCall, whose Primary opponent Andrew Cuomo dropped out a week before the Primary.
2004 – Neither Chuck Schumer, nor Republican Howard Mills had Primaries. Schumer beat Moynihan’s record in November.
So add up the numbers and the answer to the question I asked at the beginning is yes! Hard-fought Statewide Primaries can hurt, help or made no difference to candidates.