Why Isn’t Kathy Hochul Running Away With Her Race for Reelection?

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Why Isn’t Kathy Hochul Running Away With Her Race for Reelection?

Is Kathy Hochul, the Democratic governor of New York, really going to lose? Recent polls show a shockingly tight race between Hochul, who replaced the disgraced Andrew Cuomo last year, and Lee Zeldin, a Republican congressman and proud Donald Trump supporter. In one recent Quinnipiac University survey, the two candidates were just four points apart. Other pollsters have the race even tighter.

It goes without saying that a Hochul defeat would be a gutting loss for Democrats in New York—even the progressive flank that has long been wary of her. Zeldin is no George Pataki. He’s not even a relative moderate in the mold of Charlie Baker or Larry Hogan, two Republicans who led blue states while distancing themselves from Trump. Though he represents a Long Island swing district, he voted against certifying the 2020 election results. He was an early, enthusiastic Trump supporter and never, at any point, recanted. He is a fiscal and social conservative; he celebrated the overturning of Roe v. Wade and has said he’d appoint a “pro-life” state health commissioner.

Given all of this, how is Zeldin nipping at the heels of Hochul, who governs a state that last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1984? A state that handed Cuomo a 24-point win in 2018? There is a confluence of factors, some particular to Hochul and others far beyond her control. It should be stated, plainly, that Hochul is still likely to win. Democrats far outnumber Republicans in New York, and Zeldin would need to strongly overperform past Republicans in deep-blue New York City to overcome Hochul’s advantages. She still has far more cash on hand—almost $11 million, at the last filing—and the support of every major labor union and elected official in the state. All of this, for Zeldin, is incredibly difficult to overcome.

But the Trumpian congressman is, Ron DeSantis–style, tapping into the current zeitgeist. He is a disciplined backlash candidate who has, from the start, spoken to anxieties over inflation and rising crime. While murders and shootings are down in New York City, burglaries, grand larcenies, and subway crime are all up, and on the news every night. There are middle-class Democrats, especially in the outer boroughs, who are going to vote for Zeldin on November 8. Zeldin has disingenuously blamed the crime spike on 2019 state bail reform laws; crime is up across America, including in red states—but the message, echoed by the tabloid media and TV, is working. Hochul herself weakened the laws, which partially ended cash bail, earlier this year. Moderates and conservatives don’t care. The national environment for Democrats at the moment is dismal, and Hochul is going to pay some kind of price for that.

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