New York Republicans are not by nature an optimistic people. This makes sense given the last time anyone with an ‘R’ after their name won a statewide election was two decades ago.
Just a month or two ago, the politicians, pundits, flacks, and pollsters here were all saying the same thing about this year’s race for Governor: Incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul was going to win and Republican challenger Lee Zeldin had no chance. This was not so much based on polls, though they looked bad for Zeldin, but also on raw registration numbers dominated by Democrats. But things have changed. Now most of those same folks are saying, at least behind the scenes, not just that Zeldin can win, but that he will.
As a mid-October chill graced the air in Union Square in Manhattan a decent sized group of sign wielding Zeldin supporters milled around the gazebo shaped subway entrance. In a few minutes the candidate would be there, before the cameras with his running mate, former police officer Allison Esposito and there was but one subject on the agenda: Crime. Murders on the subway, a father killed in a hotel lobby during visiting week at Marist College, even a shooting just 20 feet from Zeldin’s own house, where his children were.
As he spoke, his volunteers flanked behind him, a crowd grew, listening at first, nodding and grunting their agreement at the dangerous turn New York has taken, and eventually loudly cheering at promises to end soft on crime bail reform laws and implement a crime state of emergency on day one. One woman pleaded with him to fix things so she and her family can feel safe again. Her tone was a frustrated mix of exasperation and hopelessness. The candidate sought to reassure her.
Lee Zeldin is not an imposing figure. The best way to describe him may be as your friend’s dad from when you were a kid, you can almost hear yourself saying, “Hi, Mr. Zeldin,” and him intoning, “Hello, now let’s get in the van. Seatbelts.” He is no-nonsense and matter of fact.
He doesn’t have the aggressive, sometimes annoyed attitude of a Ron DeSantis, or the aw shucks, fleece-vested warmth of Glenn Youngkin. He is something different, and in a sense something very New York. He’s not particularly ideological, he just wants to get things done.
The race to defeat Hochul for the Governor’s office first entered the national news cycle back in July when Zeldin was attacked on the campaign trail by a drunken man with a small blade. It came at a point when Democrats were ramping up their fears of Republican-inspired political violence, but those same Democrats seemed to think nothing of a sitting congressman and gubernatorial candidate being literally assaulted on the stump.
It was the crack in the door that the GOP needed, and now in October, Zeldin has shrunk a 20-point lead down to 4 in some polls.
The response from the Hochul campaign to Zeldin’s rise in the polls has been slow and stunted. Following the national playbook for Democrats, her pitch and TV ads focus on two things: Abortion and alleged Republican MAGA extremism. There are some reasons it’s not working.
Talking to voters in New York two different issues come up time and again, crime and inflation. Nobody really thinks Zeldin will ban, or even significantly curtail abortion access in New York, in fact he’s promised not to. As to MAGA extremism, there’s just no real evidence of it in either Zeldin’s record or demeanor. He doesn’t spend much time talking about Trump, though he got the Donald’s endorsement, he’s policy first, last and only — and right now, economic and crime policy issues are the last thing Hochul wants on voters’ minds.
The growing confidence in Zeldin’s prospects have a lot to do with Hochul’s inability to find a winning issue to campaign on. She still holds a slight edge in the polls but it’s trending badly for her and there is a frightening harbinger looming across the Hudson River.
Last year’s shocking election in New Jersey where Democrat Phil Murphy came within a percentage point of losing a race that most polls showed him leading by 8 to 10 points has to look perilous to New York Democrats. In that race, by the time anyone knew it was really so close it was too late. With three weeks until the election, this is not the case in New York this year.
A Zeldin win in reliably blue New York would be a national bombshell, but maybe it shouldn’t be. In 1993 with crime surging, Gotham elected Republican Rudy Giuliani to clean it up. Two years later, the GOP seized the Empire State’s governor’s mansion with George Pataki. The question really is whether things have gotten so bad that New Yorkers are seeing red and will be voting red. Crime alone might not do it, soaring prices alone might not do it, a subway system so broken and hapless that nobody knows if they can get home might not do it. But all of this, and more? It seems very likely to be enough.
Hochul’s best hope at this point, given she has so little to run on, wants to debate as few times as possible, and is barely on the trail, is that the Democrat Party machine can pull her over the finish line. That might have worked for Andrew Cuomo, who Hochul replaced after he resigned in disgrace, he had sharp political elbows and wielded enormous power. Hochul just doesn’t, she’s a minor political figure from Buffalo, nobody in the party is scared of her.
In politics as in life, many things seem absolutely certain right up until they don’t. That’s where the governor’s race has arrived in New York. A once unthinkable Zeldin win isn’t just being thought of now, it’s become more likely than not to occur. For a city and state crippled by crime, which went through some of the harshest Covid lockdowns, thanks in part to Hochul, and has bled citizens to Florida like they are following Moses, a new dawn seems to be cracking the horizon. You heard it here first, Lee Zeldin is going to win.
David Marcus is a Brooklyn based columnist and author of “Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation”
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.