(Updates with additional details, quotes from Nixon)
By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK, Sept 13 (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday turned back an aggressive challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in the race for the Democratic nomination for November’s general election.
The New York Times and Associated Press called the race for Cuomo, who held a two-to-one lead on Nixon after a bitter race that saw Cuomo spend about $18 million. More than 1.4 million people voted in the primary, doubling the race in 2014.
The win makes Cuomo, who is seeking his third term, the heavy favorite headed into the Nov. 6 election against Republican Marc Molinaro.
Nixon is best known for her role on HBO’s “Sex and the City” and was seeking office for the first time. She had trailed in polls by more than 30 points throughout the campaign. She ran on issues like voting reforms and fixing New York City’s subways, and accused Cuomo of poor governance.
“We took on one of the most powerful governors in America. It wasn’t easy,” said Nixon, in remarks delivered to supporters in Brooklyn after conceding the loss.
“We had to fight just to get on the ballot. We had to fight just to get a debate. We started with nothing, and we earned every single vote,” she said.
Left-wing candidates have rung up a series of victories in nominating contests, with more liberal candidates being nominated in governor’s races in Georgia and Florida. But knocking off incumbent governors is harder, particularly one with Cuomo’s cash.
Earlier this campaign season, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley both upset long-serving Democratic incumbent congressmen in nominating races in New York and Massachusetts, promising more vigorous liberal policies and highlighting their opposition to Republican President Donald Trump.
It was the latest attempt by candidates from the party’s energized left wing to gain a further hold on the Democratic party as Democrats seek to regain control of the U.S. Congress and bolster their ranks in state governments across the country in the Nov. 6 elections.
Cuomo, 60, controls the party’s state machinery and secured endorsements from members of the party establishment. He has drawn ire from left-wing activists in the state who believe he has been too willing to negotiate with state Senate Republicans. He was considered potentially vulnerable to a challenge after his former campaign manager and several other lawmakers were convicted in a corruption trial.
However, Cuomo ran on his efforts to fund higher education, and highlighted his support for gun control, gay marriage and paid-family leave, and he shifted to the left by softening positions on marijuana legalisation and on felony voter rights.
“The Governor ran an active campaign highlighting his experience and policy achievements, which may have overcome voters’ concerns about corruption or his liberal bona fides,” said Daniel Lewis, associate professor in political science at Siena College.
Cuomo this year also ended an arrangement between a group of Democratic state senators who decided years ago to caucus with the Republicans, handing them control of that chamber. Several of those Democrats were defeated in primary challenges on Thursday. (Reporting by Jonathan Allen; additional reporting by David Gaffen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Peter Cooney and Muralikumar Anantharamana)