NEW YORK – Gov. Kathy Hochul came to a 1960s-era shopping mall in Jamaica, Queens, on Sunday to urge local Democrats to do something they've long done, but that some fear they may not do in huge enough numbers this year: vote for a Democrat for governor.
Speaking at a rally in the mall's atrium, Hochul portrayed her opponent, Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, as an extremist who wants to curtail a woman's right to abortion and who voted against certifying President Biden's election.
"I will never say I'm satisfied with anything, but we did make a lot of progress in restoring people's faith in government," Hochul says.
"That's what's going on right now, and we're going to reject it on Election Day," Hochul said as a crowd of several hundred, most of them African American, cheered.
Hochul's event Sunday with New York Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials was no outlier. As Zeldin and the conservative super-PACs backing him have bashed Hochul about rising crime rates, and as the national political climate has turned against Democrats, her lead over Zeldin has dwindled to the single digits in some polls. That being the case, Hochul has increasingly turned her campaign efforts toward vote-rich New York City, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly seven to one.
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And despite some hand-wringing among Democrats who think she has not yet mobilized city Democrats to turn out to vote for her, Hochul expressed no such worries when asked about them on Sunday.
Republicans seem downright giddy about their prospects, though the savvy among them note that winning in ultra-Democratic New York still represents the ultimate challenge, Bob McCarthy writes.
"We've been energizing people all over," she said. "This is the game I love: when you get out there and have a chance to talk to people in the diners and churches and synagogues. I'm energized. I'm liberated. I've been working so hard as governor. Now, I have a chance to get out there and really speak to the voters."
There are signs, though, that the Buffalo-born Hochul still has work to do to turn out vast numbers of Democrats in a city where residents speak in multiple accents very different than hers, and where she was comparatively unknown until her ascendancy to the governorship 14 months ago.
Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul’s lead over Republican Lee Zeldin has shrunk to 11 points in the contest for governor of New York – down from 17 points three weeks ago – according to the latest Siena College poll.
While the Hochul campaign touts a Siena College poll from mid-October that shows her with a 40-point lead in New York City, a later Quinnipiac University survey showed her leading Zeldin by only 22 points in the five boroughs. In contrast, four years ago – in a year when the political climate favored Democrats – Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a 64-point lead in New York City in a Quinnipiac poll.
What’s more, a mile-long walk through Middle Village, a middle-class Queens neighborhood of single-family houses where Zeldin held a rally on Saturday, revealed not a single lawn sign for either gubernatorial candidate.
Nevertheless, Zeldin drew an enthusiastic, largely white crowd for his rally.
Zeldin is sticking to a calculated game plan of constant appearances before potential Democratic defectors. He cites former Republican Gov. George E. Pataki's three consecutive victories in 1994, 1998 and 2002, and thinks it can be done again.
"We're not out here because we belong to a particular party," said Zeldin, who's been campaigning hard in the city's Republican pockets. "This is about Republicans and Democrats and independents all uniting because we want to save this city, we want to save this state."
Even Hochul’s supporters acknowledge she will face issues turning out the Democratic city vote the way her predecessors did.
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Bishop Orlando Findlayter of the New Hope Christian Fellowship in Brooklyn praises much of what Hochul has done since the resignation of her scandal-plagued predecessor. In particular, he praises Hochul for successfully pressing for legislation addressing gun violence and for increasing funding for schools and mental health.
But Findlayter, a longtime Hochul backer, said she has failed to generate the enthusiasm for her campaign that Cuomo usually did among the city’s African-American population.
"I don't see a lot of excitement and motivation,” Findlayter said “I'm hearing one thing I've not heard in a long time: 'Does it make any difference?' "
Gerson Borrero, a well-known independent political analyst in the city, agreed that Hochul has work to do to persuade many of her likely supporters to go to the polls.
"This is a lackluster campaign in terms of motivation," Borrero said.
And there are reasons for that, Borrero added.
“He's young and energetic,” he said of Zeldin. “She comes from a certain part of the state that tends to not know what the downstate area needs or wants.”
Early on, Hochul led Zeldin by double digits in poll after poll in month after month. But in recent weeks, her lead over Zeldin had dwindled to only 7.3 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Even so, the FiveThirtyEight website forecasting model still predicts she will win by a comfortable margin of 12 points. As of Sunday, that website gave Zeldin only a 3% chance of victory, largely because Democrats outnumber Republicans across the state by more than two to one.
But Hochul isn't taking any chances in the part of the state with the most Democrats. Sunday’s appearance was Hochul's 24th campaign stop in New York City in October, and she’s not stopping anytime soon. A get-out-the-vote breakfast is set for Thursday at a Times Square hotel with Adams, the Rev. Al Sharpton, the head of the powerful 1199 Service Employees International Union and ministers from across the city.
"She's going to go to New York City to get votes for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks," New York Democratic consultant Evan Stavisky said. "Willie Sutton robbed banks because that's where the money is. If you're a Democratic candidate for governor, you go to New York City because that's where the most Democrats are."
Hochul's campaign touts the fact that so far, Democrats have returned absentee ballots in the state at three times the rate of Republicans. Aides also note that Hochul still had nearly $6 million on hand for the last 11 days of the campaign.
Still, there's a palpable sense of nervousness among city Democrats about whether Hochul will turn out every city vote she needs.
"Please know that your vote is your voice," Adrienne E. Adams, the speaker of the New York City Council, said at Hochul's rally on Sunday. "We must vote. We must continue to get out the vote, and that is why we're here today."
New York's mayor, who is not related to the Council speaker, agreed.
"We cannot say on the Wednesday after Election Day: 'We wish we would have. We wish we could have. We wish we could have done better. We wish we had voted,' " Mayor Adams said.