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Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is a darling of the right-wing media, a staunch Trump conservative trying to position himself as the heir to the former president’s political brand. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is a descendant of a liberal political dynasty, a Trump antagonist with his own, long-simmering presidential ambitions.
Both have been on the front lines of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. But recent twists in their political fortunes underscore how differently both parties are keeping score in this volatile moment. Democrats and Republicans aren’t just on different teams in this pandemic, they’re playing by different rules altogether.
Less than a year ago, Mr. Cuomo was a Democratic darling, heralded for his handling of the virus in a state that was hit hard by the pandemic. Celebrities declared themselves “Cuomosexuals,” his daily briefings became must-see TV and political wags murmured about a presidential bid. The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awarded him an Emmy for his 111 “masterful” coronavirus briefings. He published a memoir about his leadership, taking a victory lap with the race far from over.
There were no such accolades for Mr. DeSantis. Referred to as “DeathSantis” and mocked for allowing “Florida Morons” to pack state beaches, Mr. DeSantis faced national scorn for his resistance to shutdowns. Last fall, he lifted all restrictions, keeping schools open for in-person learning and forbidding local officials from shutting down businesses or fining people for not wearing masks.
“I see, in many parts of our country, a sad state of affairs: schools closed, businesses shuttered and lives destroyed,” Mr. DeSantis said, offering a rousing defense of his pandemic response at the opening of Florida’s legislative session this week. “While so many other states kept locking people down, Florida lifted people up.”
The same could be said about Mr. DeSantis’s political ambitions.
For Republicans, loyalty to the former president and his pet issues has become the ultimate litmus test. Mr. DeSantis checked all the boxes: fighting with the media, questioning scientific experts, embracing baseless claims of election fraud and railing against liberals.
Conservatives rewarded the governor for his fealty. His approval rating rose above water in recent weeks, with some polling of Republicans showing Mr. DeSantis with higher ratings than Mr. Trump. He finished first in a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend covering a field of potential presidential candidates that did not include Mr. Trump, fueling chatter about a 2024 bid.
The Democratic Party has embraced a very different kind of political standard, one based not on allegiance to President Biden but ideological and cultural purity. Throughout the Trump era, Democrats equated politics with morality as a way to attack a Republican president who trafficked in racist and sexist attacks. They cast themselves as the party of #MeToo accountability, pressuring those in their ranks accused of sexual misconduct to step down.
That’s left Democrats facing charges of hypocrisy when it comes to Mr. Cuomo, who is now accused of sexually harassing several younger women. While Mr. Cuomo has few defenders, many powerful New York Democrats, including Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are pushing for an independent investigation rather than an immediate resignation. The allegations have left his party divided between those who believe he must leave office and others who worry that the party is eating its own by cleaving to a standard Republicans largely ignore.
It doesn’t help that before this current scandal, Mr. Cuomo was already under investigation for allegedly manipulating statistics on deaths of nursing home residents during the pandemic — chipping away at his image as a masterful manager of the virus and the Democratic brand of good governance. Once sailing toward a fourth term as governor, Mr. Cuomo is now fighting for his political career. His approval ratings have fallen nearly 30 points from last May.
Yet, for both men, their political fortunes and the tests imposed by their parties seem disconnected from the central question of this moment: Did they effectively govern their states through an extraordinarily challenging year?
The data is fairly inconclusive. When adjusted for population, Florida has a lower rate of deaths than New York, including at long-term care facilities like nursing homes, but a higher rate of cases over all, and it leads the country in the number of cases of the more contagious and deadlier U.K. variant of the virus. Slightly more Floridians — 8.7 percent of the population — than New Yorkers have received two doses of a Covid vaccine, but nearly the same percentage of the population in both states has received the first dose.
Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story. New York was the epicenter of the country’s first wave, before doctors had the equipment, experience and medications to fight a new disease. States like Florida learned from New York. Yet, for all Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to use his platform to stop the spread of the disease, he resisted early calls for lockdowns — a delay that undeniably played a role in the high death toll.
About a year into the pandemic, Mr. Cuomo has fallen from his perch as a liberal icon. Mr. DeSantis has ascended to conservative stardom. And New Yorkers and Floridians are still mourning, masking and waiting for brighter days.
Over the past year, life has changed in ways big and small. We’re curious how the virus affected your political views. Maybe you went from MAGA-head to Bernie bro? Found a new love of big government after decades of worrying about the debt? Or even a new set of QAnon friends?
March 5, 2021, 7:20 p.m. ET
Let us know how the virus changed your political opinions and you could be featured in a future edition of On Politics. As usual, please include your full name and where you live. We’d love to hear from you!
23 candidates enter House race in Dallas
Filing closed this week in the race for a suburban Dallas congressional district, which became vacant upon the death of Representative Ron Wright, a Republican who was hospitalized with the coronavirus in January.
Twenty-three candidates — 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent “constitutionalist” — filed for the May 1 special election. The crowded race reflects a sense of political uncertainty, as both parties jockey for their future in the Lone Star State.
While Republicans fended off efforts to flip the state in November, Democrats still believe Texas is trending in their direction. The contest in the Sixth Congressional District, which includes the Dallas suburbs and more rural counties, will offer early clues as to whether suburban voters keep trending Democratic without Mr. Trump on the ticket.
Local Republican leaders have coalesced behind Susan Wright, a party activist who is the widow of the congressman. Other Republican candidates include former Trump officials, politicians who’ve lost primaries in the district before and Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler who ran for Congress last year in Nevada.
“I have six children and I want them to be raised in a constitutional-friendly state,” said Mr. Rodimer, filing his paperwork an hour before the deadline.
Democratic candidates include Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 party nominee for the seat, Lydia Bean, a Democratic nominee in 2020, and local community leaders.
The contest is an all-party election; If no candidate clears 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will head to a runoff — a race that could pit two candidates from the same party against each other.
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