More evidence Kathy Hochul might lose to Lee Zeldin


ALBANY — In a column last week, I noted that the governor’s race is surprisingly close and said Republican Lee Zeldin could pull off an upset. To which some of you replied: You’re bonkers, Churchill, because Gov. Kathy Hochul will win reelection at a canter.

Some Democrats are burying their heads in the sand, methinks, but I do understand the skepticism. It has been two decades since a Republican won statewide in New York and the most recent governor’s races were won by not-so-narrow margins of 23, 14 and 29 percentage points. Could it really be possible, then, that a faltering Hochul could lose?

Yes, it is. 

For evidence the race is close, consider the attention it’s garnering nationally, including the sudden decision by the Democratic Governors Association to form a PAC in support of Hochul and the quick rush of big names to help Zeldin and Hochul alike.

Big Name No. 1: Barack Obama!

“The stakes could not be higher,” the former president warns in a Hochul radio ad unveiled over the weekend, a clear attempt to drive up Democratic turnout. “Don’t sit this one out,” Obama adds.

Big Name No 2: Hillary Clinton!

The presidential nominee who lost to Donald Trump is set to appear with Hochul at a rally Thursday in that hotbed of Republican votes: the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Clinton and Hochul will do their best to convince skeptical locals to give Democrats a try, just this once.

Big Name No. 3: Ron DeSantis!

Zeldin on Saturday joined with the Florida governor in what was described as the biggest rally of the race. DeSantis told a Suffolk Country crowd that New York could be like Florida if it elects Zeldin — weather not included, presumably — and said “you need someone just to go and clean house in Albany.”

DeSantis is right that New York, with a declining population and an unemployment rate that’s among the nation’s worst, could take a few lessons from Florida, but I have to wonder about the base-courting strategy being employed by the campaigns.

Sure, Clinton may motivate a few Democratic votes and DeSantis some Republican ones. But Clinton’s emergence may also prompt votes against Hochul, just as DeSantis may motivate votes against Zeldin.

In the end, then, all these big names are unlikely to matter, which means I shouldn’t devote any more space to them. But let me mention just one more, if you don’t mind.

Big Name No. 4: Andrew Cuomo!

Remember him? He’s been very quiet about this race, which must be torturing him. Who might Cuomo endorse? Anybody? Not that either candidate would welcome that particular kiss of death.

In any event, the most recent poll of the contest, released Friday by Emerson College Polling, has Hochul up by 6 percentage points among very likely voters. That suggests the governor will manage to squeak by, albeit in a race much closer than anyone not related to Zeldin would have predicted.

I mean, really, a Trump acolyte nearly winning in deep-blue New York? The prospect seemed farcical, and you have to wonder what dire situation Hochul would be facing if the GOP had nominated anybody else. But there were always factors that promised to make this race tricky to predict.

First and foremost, Hochul is not a typical incumbent. She’s an accidental holder of the office, elevated by the surprise resignation of Big Name No. 4.

“She has never been elected governor,” said Steve Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena College poll. “She has the power of incumbency and the bully pulpit, but she still has to be elected that first time.”

Second, Hochul’s fate was always going to be somewhat tied to that of her party nationally. Even back in January, the governor was fretting about the possibility of a red wave washing upon these shores amid clear warning signs: The election of Republican Glenn Youngkin in Virginia’s 2021 governor’s race and the near-loss of Democrat Phil Murphy in New Jersey’s.

“No one should take for granted that this state will stay in Democratic hands,” Hochul said then, noting the potential impact of soaring prices for groceries and sinking approval ratings for Joe Biden.

She wasn’t wrong. Still, red wave aside, Hochul shouldn’t point fingers if she loses. In a state that Democrats control almost completely, she had every advantage in this race but somehow neglected to address the issues voters care about most: crime and the economy.

And now, heading into the final stretch of the campaign, she and Zeldin each have about $6 million left in their campaign accounts, another unexpected sign that this is close to neck and neck.

Hochul should be very worried.

[email protected] ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill





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