For months, Republicans have been telling anybody who would listen that this is the year they will end their power outage in Albany. They cite violent crime and inflation, an apparent lack of enthusiasm for Gov. Hochul and a national fury over the failures of the Biden administration.
Despite those advantages, there’s been little evidence so far that the GOP could free New York from the Dem stranglehold. A Tuesday poll begins to change that.
Hochul leads Republican Lee Zeldin by just 14 points, 53-39, in the Siena College survey. While 14 points is hardly a cliffhanger, it compares very favorably to 2014. At this stage of that race, incumbent Andrew Cuomo led GOP nominee Rob Astorino by 32 points in a race Cuomo won by 14.
Moreover, Zeldin, who has represented a Long Island district in Congress since 2015, effectively begins with the 40% high-water mark of any GOP gubernatorial candidate in the last four elections. (George Pataki was the last Republican governor, winning his third term in 2002).
So closing a 14-point gap with more than three months until Election Day is certainly doable, especially given the political environment and Hochul’s uneven performance.
Zeldin, in a phone interview, sees many greenshoots in the new survey and says his internal poll has him even closer.
“This is important for our team,” he says. “The next poll should show us gaining even more momentum.”
The Siena survey is the most important since the primaries ended and is based on likely voters, as opposed to registered. It shows both candidates having a firm grasp on their party, with Zeldin holding a narrow lead among independents.
A missing piece is that, other than gun control and abortion, the poll does not ask about specific issues. Nor does it ask voters to rank the issues most important to them.
Zeldin has no doubts about what the answers would be to a ranking question.
“When we ask, a large majority answer either crime or the economy as the top issue,” he says. “And we believe that the election will be dominated by voters most concerned about those two things.”
His campaign has zeroed in on those targets and his pledge to fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Day One has become a signature promise. He accuses Hochul of “giving cover” to Bragg and other soft-on-crime prosecutors.
“She tries way too hard to avoid talking about the key issues,” he insists. He cites Mayor Adams’ request for a special legislative session to deal with crime and the bail-law mess that has seen repeat offenders let go before cops finish the paperwork.
Hochul, while voicing support for fellow-Dem Adams, has done almost nothing to help him stem the bloodshed and mayhem in Gotham.
Zeldin was attacked during a recent speech by a troubled former veteran, an incident that probably helped him gain some name recognition and even sympathy.
He knows his pro-life stance puts him at a disadvantage with many voters after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But he notes that a law offering even more abortion protections than Roe already exists in New York and believes that social issues as a whole will take a back seat to the crime wave engulfing much of the state, along with the soaring cost of living. He is also pushing for tax cuts and more school choice.
In addition to his own efforts, the redistricting process that ended up in the courts and led to nonpartisan maps gives GOP candidates a chance to improve upon the seven congressional seats they now hold, which should help increase turnout for the ticket.
Meanwhile, Hochul’s tenure has been mystifying in a fundamental way. Even though she was Cuomo’s running mate and lieutenant governor Lieut. Gov. for eight years, she was able to escape any blame in the sexual-harassment scandal that led to Cuomo’s resignation by claiming she wasn’t close to him.
She was right about that, and her distance led to hopes she would bring ethics and new openness to Albany, where everything important happens in back rooms.
Those hopes were quickly dashed as Hochul inexplicably copied some of Cuomo’s worst habits. No sooner had she taken the oath than she began speed-dialing her donors for big-bucks contributions.
And her penchant for secrecy in negotiating big government deals with donors is so Cuomo-like that it seems as if he’s still calling the shots.
Perhaps most shocking, her first pick to replace her, state Sen. Brian Benjamin, was already taught in a federal corruption probe. Much of Albany apparently knew something was up—but not Hochul. Benjamin has since been indicted and resigned.
In some ways, statewide elections in New York are a jigsaw puzzle of competing dominance. Republicans win most of the 62 counties and do especially well upstate, but Dems run up the score by capturing the cities and the most populated suburbs.
Zeldin has a plan for that. He sees getting 29% as the bare necessity in the five boroughs and believes he will top that margin easily, in part by attracting large numbers of Asian and Latino voters concerned about crime.
“If a Republican gets less than 29% in the city, it’s hard to win,” he tells me. “But if you get to 35% or 36%, it’s hard to lose.”
He also says he needs 60% of Suffolk County, his base, 55% of Nassau County and just 43% of Westchester. In fact, he has a target for each county and, in his mind, is assembling a campaign that will put him over the top across the board.
As usual, there is another hurdle for the underdog—money. Zeldin raised $13 million for the contested primary and spent nearly all of it. He has a full schedule of fundraisers, but he does not pretend to believe he’ll have Hochul’s big bucks.
Incumbency has its advantages.
Party’s For’word’ folly
Reader Joe Alloy asks “What’s in a name” and answers his own question. He writes: “Andrew Yang and Christine Todd Whitman have started a 3rd party called The Forward Party.
“Has anyone told them that ‘Forward’ was a Marxist slogan which reflected the march of history beyond capitalism and into socialism and communism? Or are they just showing us who they really are?”
AP Headline: Biden Covid sequel: back on balcony, dog for company
Alternative headline: Biden finally has a friend!
It’s ‘bench’ press time
Reader Christian Browne has a question and an idea, writing: “Mayor Adams has a Criminal Justice Coordinator. Where is this person? This office should have the stats on the judges, on the bail/no-bail releases and on these ridiculous diversion programs.
“Adams could use the facts to highlight the rate of recidivist offenders. I bet he would find these programs — the ‘alternatives to incarceration’ — are largely to blame for the revolving door.”