A year ago, I wrote a preview of the 2016 campaign narrative on the Democratic side: the primary that no one did—or does—think will happen. Twelve months later, I'm compelled to write an update—not because circumstances have changed, but because I'm struck by how steady the situation has held. Two governors who I still believe will anchor the presidential primary field have updated their résumés in recent months, and they did so in ways wholly consistent with their existing good cop/bad cop identities.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is, in my opinion, the Democratic frontrunner in 2016 because he knows how to wield power as a weapon. He's been arguably the nation's most effective governor through a combination of shameless horse-trading, almost conviction-less pragmatism, and keeping a tight lid on the entire process. Here in 2014, he showed that his methods were still effective when he negotiated New York's fourth straight on-time budget. He got his way in a high-profile battle with new mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio on universal pre-kindergarten. But the fight also made him an enemy in the mayor, and especially in the mayor's people. It was almost a clean continuation of Cuomo's turbulent relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg—showing he isn't afraid to ruffle feathers to get his way.
Cuomo has made enemies elsewhere. Cuomo also betrayed his career-long distaste for transparency and oversight in 2014 when he dissolved the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. He knew that his preference to work without the public breathing down his neck would earn the enmity of transparency groups; he just didn't care. And his past embrace of conservative fiscal policies—and his literal embrace of local Republican politicians—has alienated him from New York's left. He's currently in negotiations with the state's Working Families Party over whether it will even endorse him this year. But, with 57% favorability ratings, everyone—most of all Cuomo—knows he doesn't need them to survive, even thrive, politically.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley doesn't have the same problems. His motto all along has been "slow and steady wins the race" (though if that applies to the 2016 race is still an open question). In 2014, O'Malley chalked up a few more wins in a game he's been playing since 2007: coaxing the Maryland legislature's large Democratic majorities a little bit farther left every year. After an outrageously productive 2013 session, Maryland in 2014 achieved one of O'Malley's longtime priorities: raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. For good measure, this new liberal haven also decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
O'Malley met his goals with the same respectful tactics I highlighted in 2013. He used all the time on the clock (the bills passed at the very end of the 90-day session) and allowed copious input on the bills while still shielding them from major change. Along the way, he used the time to win over skeptics—using honey where Cuomo often prefers vinegar. When O'Malley signed these and other bills just a few weeks ago, it only served to confirm his image as a liberal crusader who also manages to bring a positive attitude to governing. He continues to use his friendly relationships with legislators to enact serious, impactful progressive change.
What I still don't know any better than a year ago is which one of these political personae will win over more voters. I suspect, of course, it has more to do with the personal calculations of Hillary Rodham Clinton than anything else. But both Cuomo and O'Malley have stories to tell in 2016—and they're sticking to them.