The New York State governor’s race heated up in the final days before early voting as Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul upped her fundraising advantage and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) gained in the polls.
Hochul had more than twice as much cash on hand — nearly $11 million at her disposal compared to Zeldin’s $4.5 million — as of the latest campaign financial disclosure before Election Day on November 8. But the latest opinion polls as of press time show Zeldin, the congressman who represents the East End, down less than 10% — improving his campaign standing from a prior poll deficit in the teens.
Zeldin was hoping to face Hochul in more than one October 25 debate that she agreed to on Spectrum News as both candidates continue making their case to voters on the campaign trail and in ads.
“The first day that I am in office, immediately after being sworn in as the governor of the state of New York, I will be signing an executive order that will suspend throughout the entire state of New York cashless bail, the Less Is More Act, the HALT Act, the Discovery Law changes and Raise the Age,” Zeldin told reporters during an October 13 news conference, referring to the recent criminal justice reforms state lawmakers have made.
Zeldin has made crime a central focus of his bid to become the Empire State’s first Republican governor since George Pataki left office 16 years ago. Hochul recently took the gloves off, criticizing Zeldin as “too extreme” for New York as former President Donald Trump endorsed Zeldin.
“Lee Zeldin has stood in lockstep with Donald Trump since day one: leading efforts against his impeachment, voting to overturn the 2020 election, and continuing to rally with far-right insurrectionists,” the governor tweeted. “Lee Zeldin has enabled and embraced the former president’s extremism since day one — but New Yorkers rejected Trump and they’ll do the same for Lee in November.”
Hochul continues to hold a large fundraising advantage going into the final month of campaigning, but Zeldin made up some ground with the help of Republican figures like Trump, according to campaign finance filings released October 7.
Between the last campaign finance disclosure period in mid-July and the latest reporting deadline, Hochul raised roughly $11.1 million, bringing the total amount of cash she’s raised since taking office last year to $45 million. Meanwhile, Zeldin brought in $6.4 million since mid-July. He’s raised a total of $19.6 million since launching his gubernatorial bid, making him the best funded GOP candidate in state history, according to his campaign.
“Governor Hochul’s extraordinary fundraising efforts once again show her widespread support and momentum heading into the final stretch of the election,” said Jen Goodman, a Hochul campaign representative.
Goodman attributed Hochul’s strong numbers to 60% of her donations coming from those giving $200 or less, although the governor’s campaign has reportedly benefited from big-dollar donors, including receiving the maximum contribution of $47,000 from 30 individual givers over the past three months. Hochul’s most deep-pocketed donors include Hollywood bigwigs such as Steven Spielberg of East Hampton.
Hochul has used her considerable campaign cash to blanket the airwaves with ads attacking Zeldin over his close ties to Trump and opposition to abortion in the wake of the June U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, Zeldin bashed Hochul for raking in money from those with business before the state — she’s come under heavy fire for taking $330,000 from the Tebeble family that runs at-home COVID-19 test maker Digital Gadgets, which has earned $637 million from the state — while touting his campaign’s success with raising funds from donors contributing $200 or less.
“Kickback Kathy is desperate to cash in on as many pay-to-play campaign donations as possible, selling access to our government so she can try to cover up her abysmal record,” Zeldin said. “In stark contrast, 91% of our donations were $200 dollars or less from everyday hardworking New Yorkers, including donations from every county across the state.”
But Hochul’s not alone in tapping deep pockets. Zeldin’s campaign has also received a significant boost from big-dollar fundraisers over the past few months hosted by Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Hochul had a 50-46% lead, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in New York State released October 18.
Unsurprisingly, Hochul leads in liberal New York City with 59-37%, and Zeldin is leading Hochul 52-44% in conservative-leading rural upstate New York, pollsters say. The race is tight in the suburbs with Zeldin leading Hochul 50-49%, according to the poll.
“In the blue state of New York, the race for governor is competitive,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow. “Democrats have cruised to victory in gubernatorial races since 2006, but Governor Hochul’s narrow edge puts Republican Lee Zeldin well within striking distance of her.”
A recent Sienna College poll shows Hochul beating Zeldin 52-41% and an earlier Marist College poll showed a similar margin between the two candidates. The results show Zeldin gaining on the governor.
“The polls have continued to show that our message is resonating,” Zeldin said. “We’ve consistently been gaining massive ground on Hochul.”
Hochul blasted Zeldin on October 8 as a “co-conspirator” in the 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol Building as Congress was voting to certify the results of the presidential elections.
In response to a question from PoliticsNY, Hochul cited text messages Zeldin sent to Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in November 2020, a day before the election was called for Biden, where Zeldin appeared to offer ideas for how to undermine the election results.
In the messages — obtained by Hochul’s campaign from the House committee investigating the riot — Zeldin gave Meadows two ideas for how the administration could sow doubt in the yet-to-be-announced election results: to set up a web page highlighting alleged “voting irregularities” and have a spokesperson give daily press briefings highlighting those irregularities in each state.
The governor slammed Zeldin for the text messages as well as voting against the certification of Biden’s election victory hours after the riots.
“Not only did he vote to overturn the presidential election, he was one of the early co-conspirators sending text messages, trying to give a strategy to the White House, the Chief of Staff of the White House, on how to subvert the will of the people,” Hochul said.
She questioned how he might respond if he loses the gubernatorial election.
“He may be doing that right now here in the state of New York,” she said. “I don’t know that he’s not already planning to find a way to, when I win the election, question the integrity of the election. This person cannot be trusted.”
Zeldin’s campaign hit back, saying he made it clear in the text messages to Trump’s team they should highlight vetted and confirmed information and make sure that unvetted information is labeled as such.
“You know Kathy Hochul is desperate when she’d rather obsess over a text message sent at the beginning of November before the election was even called, rather than focusing on the issues most important to New Yorkers, including rising crime on our streets and a skyrocketing cost of living,” said Katie Vincentz, a Zeldin campaign representative.
WAR OF WORDS
In ratcheting up his campaign promise to be tougher on crime than Hochul, Zeldin said he would immediately “declare a crime emergency in the state of New York” while referencing the recent nonfatal drive-by shooting of two teenagers outside of his home, among other cases.
“It is time to take back our streets and our subways,” Zeldin said. “All law-abiding New Yorkers should be able to walk these streets and feel safe again.”
Zeldin’s promise to undo “cashless bail” refers to the bail reform act of 2019 that limits the number and types of crimes for which judges can set bail. The Less Is More Act, enacted in September 2021, sets limits on incarceration for technical violations of parole and allows for individuals to finish their parole early.
The HALT Act, or the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act passed in March 2021, restricts the use of segregated confinement for incarcerated persons. His reference to “Discovery Law changes” referred to a 2020 law expediting the federal mandate in which prosecutors turn over evidence to defense attorneys.
And the Raise the Age law changed the age that a child can be prosecuted as an adult for criminal cases from 16 to 18.
Despite the shooting outside his home, overall, statistics show Suffolk County, where Zeldin lives, is relatively safe. The county is one of the richest in the United States. Last year it had the fifth-lowest violent crime rate of the state’s 62 counties, according to state data.
Through August, the Suffolk Police Department, which patrols much of the county of 1.5 million people, had reported 47 shootings and 12 shooting deaths. That’s fewer than at this same point in 2021. There have been at least three other shootings in other parts of Zeldin’s hometown this year: a murder in January, a nonfatal shooting in February and a murder-suicide in August.
Despite Zeldin’s messaging, it’s not clear that crime is a top priority for voters. In an AP-NORC poll conducted in June that allowed U.S. adults to name up to five issues they consider most important for the government to be working on in the next year, 11% named crime or violence, unchanged since December and well below the percentage naming many of the other top issues for Americans.
A September Fox News poll asking people to name one issue motivating them to vote this year found just 1% named crime, even as most said they were very concerned about crime when asked directly. But the Quinnipiac poll suggested crime was among the top issues for New York voters, along with inflation.
Still, Democrats are responding to Republican efforts to portray them as soft on crime. Hochul recently announced the endorsement of several law enforcement unions and released her own ad with a public safety message titled, “Focused on it,” to remind voters that she toughened the state’s gun laws.
The 10-day early voting period runs from October 29 to November 6 ahead of Election Day on November 8. To find polling places, call the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 631-852-4500.
-With Associated Press, Ethan Stoke Miller and Isabel Song Beer of PoliticsNY