Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, they won widespread praise. But the political fortunes of governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California have sharply reversed.

Cuomo, who literally wrote the book on his virus success, faces growing scrutiny of his handling of nursing-home deaths in his state. Newsom, elected with 62% of the vote two years ago, is under threat of a recall. Both have seen approval ratings retreat from mid-pandemic highs as many businesses and schools remain shut and the vaccine rollout keeps sputtering.

The shift underscores the complexities of navigating a pandemic in two heavily populated states that together generate almost one-fourth of the nation’s gross domestic product. The persistence of the virus—and the criticism of how the Democratic leaders handled it—have hammered the political prospects of both men, who are widely believed to harbor presidential ambitions. And with a new White House occupant, they have lost Donald Trump as a foil in their heavily blue states.

“People blame the president, people blame the governor,” said Craig Burnett, associate professor of political science at Hofstra University. “It comes down to what is easier to do, and it’s always easier to blame a singular person.”

In the latest storm, Cuomo has come under fire since his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, admitted to lawmakers that the administration withheld nursing-home data from them after Trump’s Justice Department requested the information. On Monday, the 63-year-old governor for the first time accepted responsibility for the delay.

“The void we created allowed disinformation, and that created more anxiety for the families of loved ones,” Cuomo said at a virus press briefing.

Nursing Homes
Cuomo’s mea culpa comes amid talk of a recall, even though New York’s state constitution doesn’t permit them. But a recent online survey of 810 likely voters by Zogby Analytics asked respondents whether they would support removing Cuomo, and 40% were in favor. On Feb. 10, Republican state leaders asked New Yorkers to sign a petition to allow recall of statewide elected officials—a move unlikely to come up for a vote as required in the legislature, given that Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers.

Even contemplating a recall would have seemed unheard of less than a year ago, when the third-term governor drew praise as he navigated the state’s devastating outbreak, and became nationally known for his daily virus briefings watched by millions of viewers.

On Jan. 28, state Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report that said Cuomo’s guidance on admitting coronavirus patients to nursing homes may have put healthy residents at risk. The state has since released data revealing thousands of nursing home deaths that occurred in hospitals or outside the homes. More than 12,000 patients from nursing homes, assisted living and adult care facilities have died since March, according to Feb. 9 state data, about one-third of the total.

“It’s a real black eye for the administration that so many people died, that were basically trapped and probably not getting the support that they needed,“ said Burnett.

In a Siena College poll released Tuesday, Cuomo’s overall favorability was 56%, little changed from January; and his job performance rating was 51%, down from 56% in January. Both ratings had jumped to more than 70% in April 2020. The poll, conducted before DeRosa’s comments about nursing-home data became public, found nearly two-thirds of voters approve of Cuomo’s response to the pandemic.

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