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Andrew Cuomo vs. Cynthia Nixon debate: What you need to know

Written by
Clayton Guse

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon are set to hold their first and only debate of the 2018 election season on Wednesday night. The race pits the two-term incumbent against an actress and activist who has never held public office. After months of back-and-forth, the two candidates will finally face off on stage in what's expected to be an one of the more intriguing New York-centric political events in recent memory. 

Here's what you need to know.

When and where is the debate?

CBS2 is hosting the debate at Hofstra University, which will be taped and aired with a delay at 7pm on August 29. Those looking to tune in can fire up the ol' tube and tune into CBS (channel 2) to view the event in English, and WLNY (channel 55) to view it in Spanish. It will also be streamed on CBS2's website, as well as their Facebook page. The in-person event is not open to the public. 

When will voters pick a candidate?

The New York State Democratic primary is slated for Thursday, September 13, a little more than two weeks after the debate. If recent history is any indicator, the winner of the race between Cuomo and Nixon will likely win the general election in November. Since the 1970s, New Yorkers have elected only one Republican governor, George Pataki.

If you haven't yet registered to vote for the primary, you are unfortunately too late (New York does not have same-day voter registration). You can still register to vote for the general election this fall, though—voter applications must be received by the Board of Elections no later than October 17. 

What’s all this controversy surrounding the debate?

Since Cynthia Nixon announced her gubernatorial candidacy in March, Cuomo has been hesitant to agree to a formal debate. He did not debate his primary challenger Zephyr Teachout in 2014, and for months it looked like he was going to pull the same move with Nixon. But earlier this month, Cuomo agreed to a single debate. Rebecca Katz, an advisor to Nixon, issued a statement following the announcement of the debate, stating that CBS allowed Cuomo to choose the location, TV station, format and date. More recently, Katz has argued that the chilly temperatures in which Cuomo typically holds news conferences are “notoriously sexist,” and advocated that the thermostat in the debate hall be set at 76 degrees.

What should I look out for in the debate?

Nixon is a political novice. She's caught flack for her lack of familiarity with the intricacies of the New York State bureaucracy, and a Quinnipiac Poll released earlier this summer put her 38 points behind Cuomo. Still, Nixon is likely going to take aim at Cuomo’s shortcomings, particularly the corruption-related convictions that have cast a shadow over the incumbent’s second term in office. The governor's management of the New York City subway system has also been a hot talking point for Nixon on the campaign trail, which is expected to be a centerpiece of the debate.

As for Cuomo, this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s a savvy politician with more than two decades of experience in public office. Viewers can expect him to expertly deflect or spin nearly all of the criticisms that Nixon throws his way. Still, it will be interesting to see if Nixon's challenge pushes Cuomo to the left on issues like universal health care, cannabis legalization and MTA funding. Throughout his 2018 campaign, Cuomo has been an outspoken adversary to the Trump Administration’s policies, specifically the White House's management of the crisis left in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the separation of families at the southern U.S. border and the president’s statements denouncing "sanctuary cities.” Expect those same talking points to trickle into Wednesday's debate. 

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