The upset victory of Lt. Gov. Mario M. Cuomo over Mayor Edward Koch in the New York Democratic gubernatorial primary Thursday sets up a classic liberal-conservative battle in which Cuomo will try to blame the state's economic woes on Reaganomics and Lewis Lehrman, his Republican opponent, will try to blame them on Cuomo.
There is no question that the gubernatorial race will provide most of the drama and fireworks in New York this fall. Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who easily won renomination with an overwhelming 84 percent of the vote, is expected easily to defeat his Republican challenger, Assemblywoman Florence Sullivan.
At a news conference here today, Cuomo said he plans to make Reaganomics a major issue in the general election campaign.
"We're going to talk about my experience and his," Cuomo said. "He said he would make Reaganomics a New York state experience. I say, 'God Forbid.' "
Lehrman, who won the GOP nomination over Paul Curran with 81 percent of the vote, returned the favor while campaigning across the state.
"If you look at Mario Cuomo's campaign you'll see that most of his contributions have come from very big organized special interests," Lehrman said.
A Lehrman spokesmen shrugged off the idea that Reaganomics would be a burden for him.
"The people in New York state are not going to blame the politics of President Reagan for unemployment in New York state, they're going to blame the policies of the governor of New York -- and his lieutenant," John Buckley said.
Cuomo's unexpected victory forces Lehrman to change his plans, because he had assumed that he would be running against Koch. Lehrman's strategists assumed that the mayor would win the city, Lehrman would win upstate, and the election would be decided in the suburbs.
In Cuomo, however, he has an opponent who trounced Koch by 2 to 1 upstate, held him almost even in the city and ran closer in the Long Island and Westchester suburbs than anyone, including the pollsters, assumed.
One wrong poll, showing Cuomo trailing by 18 points, was that of The New York Post, which today dubbed him "Magic Mario."
Cuomo's advisers say that one element of the "magic" was the decision late in the primary campaign to heighten the liberal-conservative difference between Cuomo and Lehrman, and to paint Koch, who was endorsed by the Republicans in his run for mayor, as a "Reaganaut."
"That was our strategy," political consultant and pollster Pat Caddell said, "and it worked."
Cuomo, 50, will also emphasize his 7 1/2 years' experience in Albany, and the fact that the 44-year-old Lehrman has never held elective office.
Lehrman's supporters, in turn, will paint their man -- who entered the family business at 25, and built six drugstores into a chain of 202 discount drugstores -- as a successful businessman who has created jobs in New York and who "knows how to cut costs by 2 or 3 percent, the difference between a budget surplus and a budget deficit."
Money will also be a factor. Lehrman spent about $7.2 million in the primary, about $4 million of which he personally loaned to his campaign. With the Republican Party boasting an enormous campaign war chest and eager to win the governorship of a major state, his general election will probably be budgeted at $10 million.
The Cuomo camp says its cupboard is almost bare, and is hoping for help from the state and national parties, which are out-funded by their Republican counterparts by about 10 to 1.
There was today, with the plans for the future, the usual Monday afternoon quarterbacking.
Cuomo's strategists and a number of outside analysts credited his victory to the "old" Democratic Party coalition of minorities and labor. This includes last month's endorsement by the AFL-CIO and the National Organization for Women, both of whom can muster campaign workers to help offset the Republicans' dollar advantage.
Another factor was Koch's famous Playboy magazine interview, which exacerbated the traditional suspicion and antagonism that many New Yorkers upstate and in the suburbs have for New York City. The outspoken mayor called rural life "a joke," characterized suburban life as "sterile . . . it's wasting your life," and described Albany as "small-town life at its worst."
Koch also held a brief news conference in which he conceded that his words might have had "some impact." He also twitted the aspiring candidates who had hoped to succeed him as mayor.
He was aware of at least 10, he said.
"I want to make it clear that I am not depressed," he said. "I suspect if there's depression, it's theirs, not mine."