Long Island was a strange place on Wednesday. It was as if someone smacked the TV set and suddenly it was 2016 again. Apparently even Hillary Clinton felt the “Twilight Zone” effect. She had returned to Hofstra University, the site of her first debate against Donald Trump. It was “kind of like a family reunion” to be back, she said.
This time she was here not to parry with the then-Republican nominee, but to stump at the New York State Democratic Committee convention. Delegates voted on candidates for statewide offices, and Clinton showed up to support Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a worthy guardian in Trump’s America.
What a thrill for Cuomo — nice to have the first female major-party presidential nominee speak on his behalf. Actually, what luck for Cuomo to have a bunch of nice things said about him from the podium, not just by Clinton but also by speaker after speaker as he picked up the nomination of his party.
He had not one but two PowerPoint displays — and the governor loves his PowerPoint displays. The first was by state party vice chair Christine Quinn, followed by one from Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York chief Gary LaBarbera. LaBarbera’s deck included big bridges and airport construction, notches in Cuomo’s belt.
Cuomo even got a shout-out during the invocation to the solemn convention ceremony. Videos and speakers portrayed him as an opponent of Trump.
“This was a really overwhelming show of support,” Cuomo told reporters modestly afterward.
You might be forgiven for wondering whether there wasn’t another candidate challenging Cuomo in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. That’s actress Cynthia Nixon, whose supporters got some time at the podium when they formally put her name into nomination. Those surrogates — an education activist, Nixon’s high school teacher, and a left-leaning New York City Council member — railed against a powerful, entrenched political system that has shut out some New Yorkers. They asked for a “true progressive” and someone who would be more than just better than Trump.
Their candidate didn’t prevail. Cuomo got 95 percent of the vote.
That wasn’t exactly a shocker given all the pro-Cuomo pageantry throughout the day at the athletic center, where two big bags of blue balloons were hung high, ready to fall. The inevitability of the conclusion felt a little like 2016, too, when some supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders complained of the Democratic National Committee’s departures from strict neutrality during the primaries.
The national conventions are different beasts from the state-level version at Hofstra. It may seem a little strange that the party gives the nod to a candidate months before the voters choose. But that hasn’t stopped voters from rebelling and picking an alternate candidate in years past.
In 1974, for example, then-Rep. Hugh L. Carey lost the designation vote but went on to win the primary and the election. In 1982, Cuomo’s father, Mario, also lost at the convention but won in the fall.
Both losers-turned-winners earned a much higher percentage of the delegate vote during the convention than Nixon did — more than the 25 percent needed to automatically get on the primary ballot. Nixon, who didn’t sniff at that, will have to go through a long petitioning process instead to do the same.
That’s just part of the uphill battle she has in chasing after Cuomo, who’s not exactly up 95-5 in the polls, but certainly has a double-digit lead. One thing’s certain: Both are taking their own lessons from 2016, the year that never ends.
Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.