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New York governor endorses Rangel in tight congressional primary

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo threw his support behind U.S. Congressman Charlie Rangel's re-election on Sunday, just two days before Democrats in Rangel's Harlem and Bronx district vote on whether to give him a 23rd term.

Rangel, who at 84 is among the longest-serving and best-known lawmakers in Congress, faces an aggressive challenge from state Senator Adriano Espaillat, who came within 1,000 votes of ousting him two years ago after the district boundaries were redrawn.

A Siena College poll released last week found Rangel leading Espaillat 47 percentage points to 34 points among likely voters in the district. But primary results can be difficult to predict because much depends on turnout.

"Charlie has dedicated his life to being a strong, progressive leader consistently delivering for his constituents," Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement.

"His experience, seniority, and steadfast commitment to improving the lives of New Yorkers continue to make him a critical voice in standing up to the Tea Party extremism that is threatening to take over Washington," the governor said.

In this liberal bastion of New York City, the winner of the Democratic primary on Tuesday is all but guaranteed to win the general election in November.

While Rangel, who was censured by the House in 2010 after an ethics scandal, boasts a long list of endorsements - including former President Bill Clinton, New York's U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and the city’s largest labor union - the major local newspapers have been split.

The New York Times threw its support behind Espaillat, saying it is time for Rangel to "yield to the next generation," while on Sunday the New York Daily News endorsed Rangel, whom the paper called a "master legislator" deserving of a "last hurrah."

According to the Siena poll, voters are divided along racial lines. Rangel, who is black, holds a 70-point advantage among blacks while Espaillat, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, holds a 24-point advantage among Latinos. White voters in the district favor Rangel 43 percent to 38 percent.

And voters believe by a nearly two-to-one margin that Rangel will emerge victorious, the poll found.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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