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N.Y. Candidate For Governor Cynthia Nixon Aims To Get Voters Off Sidelines

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thursday's primary in New York is the final primary of the 2018 season. Activist and actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for playing Miranda on HBO's "Sex And The City," is challenging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Cuomo is the ultimate Democratic establishment vote. And Nixon has been positioning herself as a much more progressive candidate, promising to expand the electorate. From member station WNYC, Fred Mogul reports.

CORRINNE GREENE: People can hear if you sound nervous. They can smell your fear. So...

(LAUGHTER)

FRED MOGUL, BYLINE: Corrinne Greene is leading a phone bank in her apartment.

GREENE: But if you just smile - they have it written here - smile while you dial (laughter).

MOGUL: Greene is a Brooklyn College senior and a paid organizer for Cynthia Nixon.

GREENE: And try to stick to the script. And then just talk about what you're passionate about.

MOGUL: Like many upstarts, Nixon is relying heavily on young, idealistic campaigners. Strategist Rebecca Katz says students on their cell phones are just one of the ways the campaign is trying to reach new voters. They have web-based organizing hubs...

REBECCA KATZ: Whether it's for climate justice or disability rights - and it's where people can meet folks who care about a lot of the same issues they care about and get involved.

MOGUL: ...And videos with millions of views.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

CYNTHIA NIXON: We need the Reproductive Health Act passed. We need the Comprehensive Contraceptive Care Act (ph) passed.

MOGUL: Katz says the polls with Nixon trailing Cuomo don't capture people who never or rarely vote. More and more of them are getting off the sidelines, she says. The campaign's canvassers are finding people who feel outraged by President Trump and ignored by the Democratic Party.

KATZ: We've knocked on doors this cycle where people have said, I've lived in this house for 10 years; no one's ever knocked on my door and asked for my vote.

MOGUL: Democratic strategist Bruce Gyory, who is not working for either candidate, credits Nixon for trying to locate off-the-grid voters. But he doubts she can expand the electorate enough to overcome Cuomo's support among the groups that really count for primaries.

BRUCE GYORY: If you can carry black voters, Jewish voters, Hispanic voters and suburban white Catholics, you do not lose a Democratic primary in the state of New York.

MOGUL: Gyory knows about all the anti-establishment candidates who've confounded polls, like Boston's Ayanna Pressley and New York City's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not to mention the Democratic gubernatorial primary winners in Florida, Georgia and Maryland. But he thinks those races are all very different than Nixon versus Cuomo. So sure, the polls in New York could be wrong. But Gyory says...

GYORY: I will say this, it will be the greatest mistake in statewide polling, probably, in the history of the nation if they win.

MOGUL: Cuomo has a $60 million war chest, almost 20 times larger than Nixon's. Cuomo also has deep support from New York's powerful unions. They're spending money freely and mobilizing thousands of members to make calls, knock on doors and pass out leaflets.

RECORDED VOICE: Please stand away from the platform (unintelligible).

NATASHA LETMAN: Hi. Cuomo's fixing the stations.

MOGUL: The Transport Workers Union is paying members like Natasha Letman to canvass subway platforms. For the past month, Letman has been on leave from her job as a train conductor.

LETMAN: If they have questions regarding what's going on with Cuomo, you are able to answer those questions.

MOGUL: Many riders grumble about subway problems that have increased during the governor's nearly eight years in office.

LETMAN: I understand their complaints. But I do understand - even if it takes a year - if it takes two years, the fact that it's being heard and he's doing something about it, that's what really counts.

MOGUL: Letman says, before this, she was never politically active. So I asked if she would have considered voting for Nixon if the union hadn't asked her to canvass for Cuomo. She says she doubts it. She never got any information from Nixon's campaign, and she still only knows her as an actor from TV.

For NPR News in New York, I'm Fred Mogul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.