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Nixon hopes for big upset in gubernatorial primary battle with Cuomo

New York democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon greets bus drivers outside of a school while campaigning in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Democratic primary voters in New York on Thursday, will soon settle the contentious primary battle between Nixon and two-term Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democrats across New York state are picking the winner of a long and sometimes nasty primary contest between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and activist and former "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon.

The outcome of the Democratic primary that got underway Thursday will likely resonate around the nation, as it is a particularly high-profile example of the insurgent left-wing that is seeking to oust establishment incumbents who they say have failed to deliver on liberal promises.

Nixon has hammered Cuomo for failing to address New York City's beleaguered subways and for not following through on pledges to address corruption. She's called Cuomo a bully and says she represents a wave of liberals eager to take a greater role in American politics.

"Together, we can show the entire country that in the era of Donald Trump, New Yorkers will come together and lead our nation forward," Nixon wrote Wednesday evening in a final message to supporters.

Cuomo has mounted a formidable defense, touting liberal accomplishments such as gun control, free public college tuition and a higher minimum wage. He's spent millions on ads and tried to make the race about Republican President Donald Trump, arguing that he's the best qualified to govern and push back against the White House. In short, the liberal who gets things done.

"We don't just believe it — we live by it," he told a rally in Buffalo on Tuesday.

Polls show Cuomo has a commanding lead, with the most recent survey, from Siena College, suggesting he was more than 40 percentage points ahead in the race's final days. Nixon argues that recent upset victories should make anyone cautious about the accuracy of polls. She points to Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's primary victory over longtime Congressman Joe Crowley as evidence that underdog challengers can defy the odds.

While he seldom mentions her name, Cuomo has taken her seriously as a political threat. Four years ago he largely ignored primary challenger Zephyr Teachout, refusing even to shake her hand, and lost a third of the vote. This year he's spent millions on ads and, intentionally or not, moved to the left on issues such as legalizing marijuana, banning plastic bags, returning voting rights to former inmates and addressing conditions in New York City public housing.

The race has featured bitter attacks. Nixon called Cuomo a "bully" and a liar, while Cuomo's campaign has dismissed Nixon as "unhinged."

Cuomo has also racked up endorsements from a wide assortment of people including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and, on Wednesday, the musician Nicki Minaj.

Nixon, meanwhile, is hoping several recent missteps by Cuomo and his campaign come back to bite him.

The governor was mocked for saying America "was never that great" during remarks criticizing Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

Cuomo also claimed to have no knowledge of a Democratic Party mailer that questioned Nixon's support for Jewish people — despite Cuomo's control of the party and a recent $2.5 million contribution to its campaign operations. Party Director Geoff Berman later said the mailer was a mistake, and Cuomo's spokeswoman acknowledged that two former aides volunteering on the campaign were behind the piece.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, an independent, in the November general election.

It's possible that no matter who wins, both Cuomo and Nixon could appear on the November ballot anyway, thanks to third-party nominations. New York state law allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines.

Cuomo has the nomination of the Independence Party and the Women's Equality Party, while Nixon has been nominated by the Working Families Party — though she has said she will seek to remove her name if she doesn't beat Cuomo in the Democratic primary.

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