Cynthia Nixon may have trouble shaking the “Sex and the City” role that launched her to stardom
She’s most definitely a Cynthia.
But despite her education advocacy, activism on marriage equality and steady progress toward an EGOT (all she needs is an Oscar), newly minted gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon may struggle to shake the “Sex and the City” role that launched her to stardom: wry, perpetually skeptical Miranda Hobbes, the career-minded lawyer who navigated life as a single mom.
In the days since she announced her Democratic primary run against Gov. Cuomo, the specter of “SATC” has trailed Nixon: Twitter and news coverage have teemed with Miranda jokes, and several of her co-stars quickly weighed in on her candidacy. (Kristin Davis offered a hearty endorsement, Sarah Jessica Parker cheered on her “sister on and off screen,” and Kim Cattrall — embroiled in an ongoing real-life feud with Parker — vaguely wrote, “I support & respect any former colleague’s right to make their own career choices.”) The Instagram account Every Outfit on Sex and the City, meanwhile, announced it would donate 15% of proceeds of its Miranda-themed tees to her campaign.
“It’s probably mostly women, but it was such a culturally iconic show that I think the association is embedded,” Republican strategist Jessica Proud told Moneyish. “I don’t think she’ll ever shake (Miranda), because it defines her celebrity.”
So if many voters tie Nixon to her HBO-star past, will that help or hurt? Proud calls the link “a net positive.” “Two of the most difficult things when you’re running against an incumbent is trying to get the press to pay any attention to you and being able to raise money,” she said. “Her celebrity brings both of those things to the table in a huge way.”
“The upside to being a celebrity in politics is that you don’t have to introduce yourself to voters,” added Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women & Politics Center. “The downside is that you have to very quickly differentiate yourself from the fictional character that they think you are.” (The celebrity candidate is nothing new, of course — see President Trump, ex-President Ronald Reagan, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, former Sen. Al Franken and the late actor-turned-U.S. senator Fred Thompson.)
As for those who might conflate the character with the candidate, political strategists say Nixon nabbed the right role. “Miranda was the sort of sensible, responsible one among the four — it’s a lot easier to run as Miranda than as Samantha,” Lawless said. “She was the one that always had a job and was responsible and didn’t seem particularly flighty or enamored by fashion. I think she was the most serious of them.”
Progressive political strategist Liz Jaff echoed the sentiment: “If she was a Samantha or Charlotte or even Carrie, I don’t think I would want them to be governor. But Miranda? Yeah, I’d want her to be governor,” she told Moneyish. “If there was an episode about Miranda running for public office, no one would have been surprised — and people would’ve wanted her to win.”
Proud said she doubted most voters would associate Nixon with “the intricacies of who her character was, as opposed to the celebrity and the show itself.” But veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf argued Miranda was plagued by negative traits that wouldn’t do Nixon any favors: “Miranda was rotten. She was harsh. She was an elitist. She was entirely self-absorbed … She made poor Steve’s life miserable, while hating Brooklyn at the same time. Not a good mix,” he told Moneyish. “(She was) elitist, brittle, unromantic and uninspiring, when the governor has to be exactly the opposite of all of that.”
Asked whether all that NSFW footage from Nixon’s premium-cable days could come back to haunt her, Proud predicted any such tactics from the opposition would “really backfire.” “I think it would play even worse with Democratic primary voters,” she said. “I think women would really be offended by that.”
“I would’ve said that five years ago it would’ve been something that could potentially be a problem, but given what we have seen in the last 18 months, I think voters have become immune to a lot of it,” Lawless added, pointing to the Trump campaign’s defense of Melania Trump’s racy, decades-old photoshoot.
“Sex and the City” perks aside, Nixon faces an onerous task beating a two-term incumbent. (A Siena College poll last week showed Cuomo leading with 66% to her 19%.) “She has to have some powder keg of dynamite to dislodge the governor,” Sheinkopf said. “Incumbent governors are very difficult to beat in primaries.” He argued her first day of campaigning last Tuesday, during which she capitalized on a stalled subway train to underscore Cuomo’s MTA woes, was “the best day she’s going to have.”
“Next week, she may be asked about infrastructure, bonding, appointment of judges, criminal justice reform,” he said. “You name it, it’s going to come up.”
Cuomo dismissed Nixon’s celeb clout during a call with reporters earlier this month. “Normally name recognition is relevant when it has some connection to the endeavor,” he said, according to the New York Times. “But if it’s just about name recognition, then I’m hoping that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race because if it’s just about name recognition, that would really be a problem.” Cuomo ally Christine Quinn, an openly gay former City Council speaker, this week disparaged Nixon as an “unqualified lesbian.” (Nixon has identified as bisexual, but also resisted labeling her sexuality.) Quinn later walked back her comment, but maintained the actress was unqualified.
On the Miranda front, Proud suggested Nixon could “evolve in terms of establishing herself as someone voters can see as governor” with time. “The more and more that voters see her talking about issues and see her out on the campaign trail, I think they’ll think of her more as a candidate for governor than as Miranda,” she said. “But I don’t know that it’ll ever be shaken … Voters will always have that as part of their mental connection to you.”
This article was originally published March 23, 2018, and updated with new information.
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