A pair of polls suggesting a solid lead for Gov. Kathy Hochul over Rep. Lee Zeldin may be dispiriting to the challenger’s supporters (and potential donors). It shouldn’t be: The Siena and Emerson College surveys tell you that Zeldin’s in easy striking distance, if he can get his name and agenda out there.
Siena puts Hochul at just 53%, which is very low for an incumbent Democrat in a heavily Democratic state. It has Zeldin at 39%, but roughly a third of the samples hadn’t heard of him. (Emerson sees a 16-point gap, but its poll also has a higher margin of error.)
(By the way, it’s not exactly two different polls: As an experiment, the two outfits agreed to ask mostly the same questions over the same days. Also notable: Siena opted to add questions on abortion and the state’s new gun law, the issues that Hochul’s running on — not on crime or inflation, the issues on most people’s minds and where Zeldin is focused.)
Yes, he’s the underdog, not least because he’ll never match her fundraising totals after she’s devoted her time to getting checks from people with business before the state she runs.
Worse, Zeldin needs to pull about a third of the vote in New York City to win statewide, and the Gotham media market is expensive.
Happily, he doesn’t remotely need to match her spending; he just needs to get enough cash and exposure to break through. As Siena’s Steve Greenberg (a Democrat) notes, “Fourteen weeks is a long time in politics, and we know most voters don’t really begin to focus on elections till after Labor Day.”
Or, in New York this year, the World Series (especially if it’s Mets-Yanks).
Of course, he faces a hostile media environment — The New York Times, for one, seems to only print conspiracy theories about his campaign.
But if the voters simply learn the difference on crime — he’ll fire Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, she won’t; he vows to fix no-bail and other disastrous “reforms,” she pretends she already has — Zeldin should easily move up to 40% in the city and turn his current slight lead in the rest of the state into a chasm.
Widespread understanding of the “vision” gulf — she’s pure pay-to-play, he aims to actually grow New York’s economy, in part by cutting taxes and out-of-control state spending — could turn it into a blowout.
Zeldin’s goal is merely to inform the electorate. Hochul’s strategy is all about keeping voters distracted and ignorant, which costs a lot more. This race is going to get a lot tighter.