Zeldin Bid to Unseat Hochul an Uphill Battle

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will face Zeldin in November, stands with Lieutenant governor Antonio Delgado during the primary election night party, Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in New York
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul stands with Lieutenant governor Antonio Delgado during the primary election night party, Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in New York
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

East End U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has $10 million less in his campaign war chest than Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul as the two face off ahead of Election Day in November.

New York State campaign finance reports showed Hochul’s campaign had $11.7 million on hand, while the Zedin camp reported $1.6 million as of July 15, two weeks after the candidates each successfully fended off primary challengers. The gulf comes as Zeldin — who the governor called a “Trump extremist” — paints the incumbent as a product of Albany’s systemic corruption.

“Every month, Kathy Hochul has been unilaterally extending her own COVID emergency powers without legislative approval, which results in new corners that she can cut to reward her campaign donors with massive government contracts,” Zeldin said, citing an Albany Times Union report that detailed how the Hochul sent $637 million in business to one of her top campaign donors. “Not only must Hochul’s pay to play corruption come to an end, but so does her self-claimed COVID emergency powers.”

The congressman and former state lawmaker hopes he can turn the tide in the blue state — Democrats have the edge in voter registration — and ride what pundits predict could be another red wave of Republican voters turning out in large numbers this fall as the midterm elections are anticipated to be a referendum on Democratic President Joe Biden’s first two years in office.

“We must answer one question,” Hochul said after winning the primary last month, blasting Zeldin for his support for former President Donald Trump in voting against certifying the 2020 election results. “Are we going to move New York forward, or let the far-right extremist drag our state backwards?”

In addition to out-raising her opponent, the first woman governor is also banking on Democratic voters expressing outrage at the polls over the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade guaranteeing women a constitutional right to an abortion.

“He … supports taking away women’s right to choose,” Hochul told NY1, pointing to Zeldin’s statement that he would appoint an anti-abortion health commissioner, if elected.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) celebrates his win on June 28, 2022 becoming the Republican candidate for governor.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) celebrates his win on June 28, 2022 becoming the Republican candidate for governor.Photo by Bruce Adler

Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature recently strengthened women’s reproductive rights in response to the Supreme Court ruling. The odds are small of Republicans flipping both chambers to have a chance to repeal those measures.

Besides pointing to scandals, Republicans are also hoping to muster an upset by painting Democrats as easy on crime. But the GOP faces a tough fight in getting that message out: The state’s Republican party had about $80,000 in the bank as of July 11. That’s less than one-fourth the size of the Democratic party’s $376,000 war chest.

Hochul’s biggest donors include real estate developers, hedge fund managers, health insurer Fidelis and powerful unions representing New York City hotel and restaurant workers.

Her running mate, Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, got a boost from $943,000 in television ads paid by the independent expenditure committee Protect Our Future, which is funded by crypto firm FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

Zeldin’s top donors include FTX’s co-CEO Ryan Salame as well as major GOP donor, Home Depot co-founder and Long Island native Ken Langone.

The candidates will be hosting fundraisers to boost their coffers as they continue to crisscross the state making their pitch to voters over the next three months. Debates between the two are likely to be held in the fall.

In the June primary, Hochul scored an easy win over U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Gen Cove) and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams by nabbing two-thirds of the roughly 860,000 Democratic voters and scoring wins in all 62 of the state’s counties.

Zeldin won his party’s primary with nearly 200,000 of 445,000 Republican voters, though he lost Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx to Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino won his home county. Businessman Harry Wilson did not win any counties. The congressman won his home turf of Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.

Zeldin has vowed to repeal liberal criminal justice reforms, hire more police officers statewide and give judges discretion when setting bail, if elected. His campaign website also says he’ll “end all indoctrination and brainwashing” in schools and lift the cap on charter schools.

Hochul, who took over after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation and is now seeking her first full four-year term, is touting New York’s recent passage of laws expanding gun control, increasing spending on COVID-19 relief and protecting abortion patients and providers.

The new campaign finance reports also showed Cuomo — who reportedly spent his exile in the Hamptons — used over $3.5 million of campaign funds over the past year to pay law firms that have represented him amid probes into allegations he sexually harassed female employees and relied on state employees and resources for his $5.1 million book deal. Those allegations are being litigated in civil lawsuits, but criminal charges have not stuck.

Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, and has blasted an independent report that found he sexually harassed women in violation of civil rights laws. 

-With Associated Press

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