The reelection campaign of Kathy Hochul is not going as planned.
Hochul is discovering what other Democrats throughout the country are also discovering after spending the summer attacking Republican opponent Lee Zeldin as an anti-abortion Donald Trump supporter: Voters’ top concerns are now crime and the economy, which are pushing out the former president’s problems and abortion rights.
Just weeks before the election, the governor of New York is responding with a last-minute change in strategy by highlighting her initiatives to reduce crime and create jobs. In a new TV ad that was broadcast on Saturday as part of a $1 million or more buy in New York City, Hochul says, “You deserve to feel safe.” And until you do, as your governor, I won’t stop working.
Similar themes have recently been prevalent across the country as Republicans in Senate contests in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have found success by focusing more on crime, as well as in the unexpectedly tight race for governor in Oregon.
With the help of millions of dollars in campaign advertisements and a super PAC, Zeldin, a congressman from Long Island, holds almost daily press conferences at subway stations in New York City to emphasise violent crime and what he claims is Hochul’s inability to confront it.
After two decades of statewide supremacy in New York, recent polls indicate that the race is becoming uncomfortable close for the Democrats, possibly down to the low single digits.
Tuesday’s Siena College survey showed Hochul leading Zeldin by 11 percentage points, down from 17 a month earlier. A Quinnipiac University survey conducted later in the day gave Hochul a 4-point advantage, increasing the possibility of a stunning upset in the blue state.
In the Quinnipiac poll, people put fighting crime higher than defending democracy as their top concern.
According to Hochul’s aides, the governor will underline these new themes in her final speech before November 8 and, in particular, the concrete steps she has taken since taking office last year.
State Democratic Committee Chair Jay Jacobs remarked in an interview that “these are the things we’re going to have to talk to voters more about, that I think are essential to voters,” before attacking Zeldin. He can whine and have stomachaches. He excels at doing that. She generates. That is the main focus.
Hochul has primarily focused on abortion rights and Zeldin’s support for Trump up until this point. This support included voting against certifying the 2020 election and, more recently, the revelation that he messaged Mark Meadows, a former White House chief of staff, about ways to cast doubt on the results. However, Zeldin and other Republicans have claimed that crime and cost of living concerns voters more in the general election.
A tough-on-crime platform helped Republican Rudy Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, win the contest for mayor of New York City in 1993, and it helped elect Democrat Eric Adams, a former captain of the NYPD, to City Hall last year.
If you don’t feel safe in your own neighbourhood or on public transportation or if you can’t afford to eat, work, and play in New York, it doesn’t matter how many times she says “Orange Man bad,” according to Republican New York City Council Member Joe Borelli, who is in charge of a pro-Zeldin PAC called Save Our State NY.
Zeldin has, undoubtedly, played down Trump’s backing, including the former president’s support earlier this month. The Republican campaign did not issue a press statement or even acknowledge the incident on social media. It shouldn’t have been news, Zeldin said afterward, “he’s supported me before this weekend.”
Additionally, Hochul and the Democrats are changing their stance. Instead, they want to use a dual message up until election day, attacking Zeldin for his Trump support and opposition to abortion while also emphasising her track record on crime and the economy.
Despite admitting it might only be a single-digit victory in a difficult year for Democrats, they said they still expect her to continue the 20-year trend of outwitting Republicans running for statewide office.
According to Bruce Gyory, a Democratic strategist in New York who has advised numerous governors, “the Democratic constellation” of abortion rights, gun control, and Trump received increased attention in September. “I would contend that crime, inflation, and economic uncertainty have received more attention in October.”
Beyond Albany, Hochul’s fate is significant. She is the front-runner, therefore Democrats are depending on her to turn out the vote to support crucial down-ballot contests in New York, which has more competitive House seats than any other state in the country.
“It’s not simply about who will be governor. Here in New York, we have three of the most important, must-win House contests in the nation,” said Democratic strategist and former Kirsten Gillibrand staffer Jon Reinish (D-N.Y.). Strength at the top of the ticket is definitely necessary to carry them to victory. In Zeldin’s home state, where the former president lost by 23 percentage points in 2020, Hochul has continued to focus on his connections to Trump. She’s still discussing how easy it is to get an abortion.