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Letitia James. Photo: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

New York Democratic strategists, operatives and progressives are viewing state Attorney General Letitia James as an appealing primary challenger to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, they tell Axios.

Why it matters: The dynamics of New York politics are complex, especially when your last name is Cuomo. But the governor has been criticized recently for his handling of the coronavirus, and James is no stranger to picking big fights.

Her bombshell report about how the coronavirus rocked New York's nursing homes focused on the issue Cuomo rode to a heightened national profile during the past year. James also has targeted Donald Trump with an investigation into his real estate empire, as well as Facebook, Google and the National Rifle Association.

  • "You need to be less extreme but still to the left — but center enough — to get the party moderates," one Democratic operative who works on local races told Axios.
  • Neither James' nor Cuomo's offices responded to requests for comment.

Between the lines: Several operatives said Democrats can't make the same "mistake" they have in the past, as one put it, and nominate a white, liberal woman. 

  • When Zephyr Teachout and Cynthia Nixon challenged Cuomo in 2014 and 2018, they both got blown out.
  • One New York political operative pointed to Cuomo's favorability ratings as evidence the governor is still loved by New Yorkers.

Background: James is no pushover.

  • And she's a Black woman at a time when the Democratic Party publicly calls that constituency the backbone of the party.
  • “There’s a real sense that people are ready to see the back of Andrew Cuomo,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist who served as special adviser to Cuomo in 2014-15. “The question is: How afraid are they to admit it in public?”
  • Del Percio said of James: “She is fierce. No one’s going to tell her to wait her turn.”

Some New York Democrats previously harbored concerns James was too close to Cuomo, but she's changed minds with her actions.

  • "I’ve been really impressed with her," said Teachout, who also once challenged James for attorney general. She cited James' leadership on antitrust issues and "her powerful and important truth-telling report about nursing homes."

Another person to watch: Jumaane Williams is an activist and local elected official in New York City.

Go deeper

NATO sends ships, fighter jets to eastern Europe over Russia threat

Service members of Russia's Eastern Military District units attend a welcoming ceremony as they arrive at unfamiliar training ranges in Belarus. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry/TASS via Getty Images

NATO said Monday it's sending more ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe due to Russia's buildup of troops near Ukraine.

Driving the news: "NATO Allies are putting forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to NATO deployments in eastern Europe, reinforcing Allied deterrence and defense as Russia continues its military build-up in and around Ukraine," per a NATO statement.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

The latest: The United Kingdom's Foreign Office announced Monday it was also withdrawing some embassy staff and dependants from Ukraine's capital "in response to the growing threat from Russia," but added the British Embassy would remain open.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.K. PM orders inquiry into Muslim lawmaker's discrimination claim

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, England, last week. Photo: Ian Vogler/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office announced Monday that he's ordered an inquiry into allegations from a Conservative Member of Parliament that she was fired from a ministerial job due to her Muslim faith.

Driving the news: Nusrat Ghani told the Sunday Times she was informed by a government whip that she was fired from her position as a junior transport minister in February 2020 after her "Muslimness was raised as an issue" and that her faith made colleagues feel "uncomfortable."