NEW YORK — Cynthia Nixon, the left-leaning “Sex and the City” actress turned education activist, faces the electoral battle of her life in her long-shot bid to unseat New York’s governor in Thursday’s Democratic primary.
The 52-year-old mother of three wants to become the first woman and first openly gay chief executive of America’s fourth most populous state, which leans Democrat but has upstate areas that voted for Donald Trump.
Her opponent? Andrew Cuomo, 60, a governor campaigning for his third term with progressive credentials, and the support of the Democratic Party establishment and Wall Street donors. Polls will close at 9:00 p.m.
Registered party voters trickled steadily into polling stations in Manhattan, where Nixon — who espouses universal healthcare, rent controls, and fixing the decrepit subway — is thought to enjoy more support than in the suburbs or rural areas.
Outside Wadleigh High School in Harlem, four out of five voters who stopped to speak to AFP said they voted for Nixon. Outside another school on the Upper East Side, six voters were split Cuomo-Nixon.
“I just think she has the right vision and the right morals to lead New York in a direction that it has not been going in for the past years with Cuomo,” said Ian Greer, a 22-year-old fashion designer.
“He is an experienced man and she is totally inexperienced,” said Cuomo voter Jack Buchanan, 87, on the Upper East Side.
“We already have a totally inexperienced guy in the White House, so why put one in Albany?” he added in reference to the state capital.
Nixon has campaigned hard to the left, hoping to ride the crest of other upset victories by political first-timers in Democratic Party primaries in congressional seats in places like New York and Boston.
On Thursday, the educational and LGBT activist who identifies as bisexual, greeted voters in Union Square, where a growing line of people queued to take a photograph with her, an AFP reporter said.
“Role model!” yelled one woman pointing at the actress, as her team handed out fliers and a lot of people sported “I voted” stickers.
“This is not a moment to sit on the sidelines. This is a moment to stand up and fight back,” Nixon told an election eve rally.
Yet she headed into Thursday’s vote trailing Cuomo in every single demographic group, the governor leading 63-22 percent, up from 60-29 percent in late July, according to the latest poll from Siena College.
Cuomo, the son of a governor who married a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and had three children before they divorced, has traded hard on his record in government and outspent his competitor.
He also won a last-minute endorsement from rap star Nicki Minaj, who told her 20 million Twitter followers that the governor was her man. “Spread the word. See you at the polls,” she wrote.
Nixon has hit Cuomo hard on the subway, attacking him for his deals with Republicans and for taking donations from Trump in the past, claiming that she represents a grass-roots call for change.
Yet the final home-stretch of the race has degenerated into ugly spats. She denounced as a smear campaign a Democratic Party mailer that implied she was anti-Semitic, to which Cuomo pleaded ignorance.
The mailer said Nixon opposes funding for Jewish schools, supports “racist, xenophobic” calls to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, and that she has been “silent on the rise of anti-Semitism.”
Nixon, who has two children being raised in the Jewish faith, called the mailer “dirty, sleazy politics” and said Cuomo’s explanation that he didn’t know about the mailer isn’t believable.
In 2010, she signed a letter supporting Israeli artists who pledged not to perform in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel. Because of that, law professor and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz tweeted to voters to “not support her bigotry.”
Nixon also sailed into controversy for a bagel order that incensed almost everyone — the incongruous lox, cream cheese, tomatoes, and capers on a cinnamon and raisin bun.
Should she pull off the impossible it will be a humiliating blow to a governor said to harbor presidential ambitions, and who served as a cabinet secretary under Bill Clinton at the tender age of 39.
But winning state-wide is tough, especially for a first-timer up against the well-oiled and well-funded machinery of a sitting governor.
“To break through, that requires a lot of money and organization,” Michael Miller, professor of political science at Barnard College. “A lot of people would be surprised if she did pull it off,” he told AFP.
AP and JTA contributed to this report.