‘America’s governors’: Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom take the lead on coronavirus

  • N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center, which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases, on Tuesday in New York City. As of Thursday, 100 had died in the state in the past 24 hours, and the infection rate is above 21,000 in New York City. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/TNS

Published: 3/27/2020 2:45:43 PM

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo adopted the role of truth-teller as he delivered grave news Thursday during his daily coronavirus briefing: 100 more people in the state had died, bringing the death toll to 385. So far, about 37,000 New Yorkers had tested positive for the virus, and well over 1,000 were hospitalized in intensive care units.

Then he sought to console residents reeling from the enormity of the crisis.

“No one has been here before. And that’s why, look, it is going to change us,” said Cuomo, whose briefings have been aired live across the nation. “I can see it in my daughters’ eyes when I talk to them about this every night. I can see the fear ... . They’re taking it all in. What does it mean? This is going to form a new generation and it will transform who we are and how we think. But you’re not alone. You’re not alone. Nobody is alone.”

Less than 24 hours earlier and 2,800 miles away, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced mortgage relief for those who have been affected by COVID-19, and warned against complacency.

“We can defeat this virus. But we can’t defeat it unless we commit to fulfilling our individual obligations and our collective responsibilities to meet this moment. The stay-at-home orders are real,” Newsom said, in remarks that cut into soap opera and talk show broadcasts across California. “Let’s meet this moment. Let’s follow through. Halfway is no way.”

The two men — well-known Democrats with presidential ambitions who could someday face each other as rivals — have been somewhat of a footnote in national politics since declining to seek the White House in 2020. But with COVID-19 spreading throughout the United States, Cuomo’s and Newsom’s profiles have grown exponentially across the country as their demands for action, pleas for aid and calls for shared sacrifice defined the Democratic response to the pandemic. They have become the opposition party’s foil to President Donald Trump.

With the federal government leaving much of the decision-making to the states, Newsom and Cuomo are among the state and local leaders who have filled a vacuum. In the process, they have overshadowed Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, who lacks an elected office to use as a perch to weigh in on the pandemic.

Newsom is the governor of the nation’s most populous state, while Cuomo leads the country’s financial and media epicenter. Their experience, plus their status as relatively younger faces representing the new generation in the Democratic Party, placed the two politicians in prime position to step into leadership roles during this crisis, said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran New York political consultant who advised Cuomo’s 2014 reelection bid but also worked against him in the past.

He likened it to Sept. 11, when the terrorist attacks propelled then-New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani into the national spotlight.

“If Rudy Giuliani was America’s mayor, then for everything west of the Mississippi, Gavin Newsom is America’s governor and for everything east of the Mississippi, Andrew Cuomo is America’s governor,” Sheinkopf said. “Both of these men have the opportunity to galvanize their states and to galvanize large portions of the nation in a way that hasn’t happened since 9/11.”

A poll this week from Monmouth University found that governors across the board are getting high marks for the handling of this crisis, and that their favorability remains high among Democrats, Republicans and independents — contrasting with the much more partisan breakdown of opinion on Trump’s leadership.

“Right now, it’s the governors, rather than the president, who are benefiting from this ‘rally round the flag’ effect you get in these kinds of crises,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Newsom and Cuomo were thrust into a leading role because the federal government failed to coordinate a major relief effort and left states to search for masks, ventilators and other medical necessities, creating a “Hunger Games“-like competition for crucial supplies, said Peter Ragone, a Democratic strategist who has advised both of them.

“In the absence of federal leadership, you have two incredibly talented governors who have stepped into the void, who are managing the brunt of the crisis for the country at the moment,” Ragone said. “Their actions have been incredibly consequential not just for their states but also for the USA.”

Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, tweeted favorably about Cuomo’s daily briefings.

“Confession: I look forward to watching Gov. Cuomo’s press conference every day. I get a kick out of how he talks about govt issues and then goes into a therapy session,” wrote Haley, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate.

Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, referred to Cuomo as “my governor” as he praised his briefings.

“We’re not even in the middle of this challenge, much less at the end of it. We still have to wait to see if the curve starts to bend before anyone can declare victory,” said former California Gov. Gray Davis. If Cuomo and Newsom were to be judged in a baseball analogy, he said, “we’re in inning two, maybe three. They’ve gotten off to a very good start. But there’s still a lot of innings left.”


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