Hochul looking to deploy Dem allies on campaign trail, as polls show Zeldin tightening gap

Hochul, Zeldin
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (left) and Governor Kathy Hochul.
Photos courtesy of Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul and Zeldin campaign

As New York’s gubernatorial race enters the home stretch, Governor Kathy Hochul’s campaign said it’s likely to tap an army of Democratic allies, including Mayor Eric Adams, to join her on the trail in the days leading up to the Nov. 8 election as her GOP rival, Rep Lee Zeldin, is gaining in the polls.

“I think we’re probably going to leverage just about anybody and everybody who’s been supportive of the governor thus far, including the mayor, including our union partners, including electeds from the local level up to the federal level and the congressional delegation,” Hochul campaign spokesperson Jerrel Harvey told PoliticsNY Friday.

Harvey’s comments come after three public polls this week showed a tightening race, with Zeldin only trailing Hochul by 4 points in a Quinnipiac University survey from Tuesday and 6 points in another from SurveyUSA on Thursday.

It also followed the mayor giving a curt one-word answer to PoliticsNY’s question on whether he was planning to hit the campaign trail on Hochul’s behalf during an unrelated news conference Thursday. Adams simply said “yes” in response to the question and added “I’m going to be campaigning, whatever she needs me,” when pressed for more details by a reporter.

Mayor Eric Adams gives remarks to the New York State Financial Control Board on the Fiscal Year 2023 adopted budget at Governor Kathy Hochul’s Midtown Manhattan Office. Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.Photo courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Harvey said Hochul has been “aggressive” in her efforts to campaign with local elected officials over recent weekends. For instance, last Saturday she stumped in upper Manhattan with U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat – a power broker in that neck of the city – and parts of the Bronx with prominent Boogie Down electeds like Borough President Vanessa Gibson and Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz.

While he couldn’t name a specific event on the horizon, Harvey said voters will likely see Adams on the trail with Hochul before the election.

“She’s been pretty aggressive on the trail, kind of hitting our stride at the right point, getting out in the city,” Harvey said. “So I imagine the mayor will certainly be part of that effort as well. I don’t have a specific event. But I think that’s more than fair to say.”

A campaign spokesperson for the mayor didn’t respond to PoliticsNY’s requests for comment.

According to Evan Stavisky, a Democratic consultant and president of the Parkside Group, considering the high stakes of this year’s midterm elections – where Republicans are likely to retake the House – Hochul needs to be deploying high profile Democratic figures like Adams to help drive Democrats to the polls.

“This is a tough environment for Democrats nationally, as any midterm should be when Democrats have both houses of Congress and the White House,” Stavisky said in an interview. “So you don’t want to leave anything on the field. You want to make sure that you’re engaging and mobilizing every community. And you certainly might want to take advantage of the support of popular elected officials like Eric Adams.”

Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul announce new life science education and jobs hub in Kips Bay. Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.Photo courtesy of Governor Kathy Hcohul’s office

Adams likely hasn’t stumped for Hochul so far during the general election, Stavisky said, because both he and the governor have hectic schedules and it’s hard to find an overlapping time where they’re both available.

“I’m sure the governor, who’s a moderate Democrat, welcomes the support of the mayor, who’s a moderate Democrat, and obviously wants to put him to work, helping her reelection,” Stavisky said. “But there’s always logistics to be worked out. And it sounds like she’s still working through the details.”

Making sure communities in the city turn out to vote is vitally important for a Hochul victory on Nov. 8, Hunter College Public Policy Program Director Basil Smikle said, because it’s where Hochul draws the majority of her support. While Zeldin will likely lead in the city suburbs and upstate, he added.

That bears out in a Siena College poll from earlier this week, where Hochul had a 70 to 23% lead over Zeldin in the city and he held both the suburbs and upstate by 4 points.

But according to the Quinnipiac poll, which gave the governor a 59 to 37% advantage in the five boroughs, Hochul should be working harder to solidify her base there. That’s because the percentage of the city’s vote Zeldin received in the survey is key to winning statewide – the conventional wisdom being that a Republican needs at least 30% of the New York City vote to have a shot at taking the whole state.

“In many ways, the governor’s base is the Democratic base of New York [City],” Smikle said. “And she needs turnout from the city because Zeldin is much more competitive in the suburbs – certainly in Long Island and in upstate New York. And so it’s incredibly important for her to have the mayor with her.”

U.S. Rep. and GOP gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin.Photo courtesy of Zeldin for New York

However, GOP consultant William O’Reilly – who worked on Rob Astorino’s failed gubernatorial bid during the Republican primary – said Zeldin’s strong performance in the city reflected in the Quinnipiac poll shows that his focus on combating high crime as a central campaign issue is resonating with city voters.

“The poll showed Lee doing quite well in the five boroughs,” O’Reilly said. “That’s not a great surprise because of the crime rates. Crime tends to transcend party registration.”

Hochul appears to be trying to close the gap on crime with a new video ad, O’Reilly said, that highlights her move to rollback parts of recent reforms to the state’s cash bail laws earlier this year.

Overall, O’Reilly said, after months of Zeldin being a clear underdog, the polls show that he has a real shot at taking the governor’s mansion in November.

“It certainly puts him in striking distance,” O’Reilly said. “And more importantly, he has the momentum right now. And so, if he can hold on to that momentum for the next 20 days, he could pull off a great upset here.”