Lee Zeldin, a right-wing candidate, is in striking distance after capitalising on voter unease over lawlessness
The pro-life, pro-gun, and fervently pro-Trump Republican Lee Zeldin is on the verge of becoming the next governor of New York, a Democratic stronghold, owing to a campaign that has persistently sought to capitalise on voters’ fear of crime and lawlessness. In a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one and where the great suspense surrounding recent elections has been the battle between the center-left and the progressive left, a number of seasoned New York political observers are still betting that incumbent Kathy Hochul will win. Zeldin’s late accusation has nonetheless surprised observers and seems to support a growing theory about the nature of this midterm election cycle: that voter concerns about crime and an unstable economy, stoked by Republicans, are displacing Democrats’ focus on defending abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June. When the contenders gathered for their one and only debate on Tuesday night, they echoed those talking points. Zeldin wanted to know why Hochul had not removed Manhattan’s progressive district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a proponent of sentencing changes, during the tense, hour-long altercation and accused Hochul’s team of engaging in dubious business with contributors. Zeldin stated, “I am running to take back our streets and to unabashedly defend our men and women in law enforcement.” Additionally, he made a clear contrast between the perspectives of the two contenders on the epidemic, saying: “Let me be clear to all the parents that are out there. I won’t make your kids get the Covid vaccination. Ever.” Hochul said that Zeldin could not be relied upon to defend abortion rights and challenged him on his vote against officially recognising Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. She invited the Long Island congressman to respond “yes” or “no” to the following question: “Was Donald Trump a wonderful president?” Zeldin declined, despite mentioning a number of Trump administration actions that he agreed with. Beyond New York, the problem of crime and public safety seems to be spreading. It has aided Republican Senator Ron Johnson in Wisconsin in his battle with liberal Democrat Mandela Barnes. In a close contest against John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Republican Mehmet Oz is employing a similar game plan. In a recent Politico survey, more than 75% of respondents believed violent crime was a significant issue in America, albeit they had different ideas for solutions. “Abortion is not the problem; crime and the economy are. Hank Sheinkopf, a seasoned New York political consultant, stated that it has always been. Sheinkopf stated that for most voters, “fears of getting shot strolling down the street or putting food on the table” outweighed the passions stoked by abortion. However, he did not discount the passions stoked by abortion. Zeldin’s campaign manager for the 2014 congressional election, Chapin Fay, who is also helping him raise money, concurred. He added of Hochul, “I think she’s learning what Democrats around the country are learning. The abortion debate is not having the desired effect. Fay said that the recent assaults in New York, which seemed to be random in character and involved people being pushed down subway lines by unidentified attackers, as well as rumours of an impending recession had fostered an environment of fear that is harming incumbents. He remarked, “I believe people are genuinely unhappy and terrified. Since George Pataki’s reelection in 2002, Republicans have suffered double-digit losses in every New York governor’s campaign. As expected, Zeldin, a lawyer and Iraq War veteran from Shirley, Long Island, trailed Hochul throughout the summer by significant percentages and was mostly ignored. But earlier this month, when Zeldin’s twin daughters were studying inside, two adolescents were hurt in what appeared to be a drive-by gunshot outside his house. The wounded people hid beneath his porch. The incident served as a dramatic illustration of the widespread criminality he has discussed on the campaign trail. It appeared to validate for suburban voters’ fears that neighbourhood violence in the metropolis may also spread to them.
A veteran political operator in New York noted that since crime had decreased in the state during the early 1990s, many formerly liberal voters now had a low tolerance for it. This guy stated, “New Yorkers are not used to crime being a problem. But when things go bad, criminality and public safety become the most important issues. In a survey conducted by Quinnipiac University and released a week earlier, Hochul had a 50% to 46% lead against Zeldin. The FiveThirtyEight site calculated an average of the poll results, which placed the margin at 7 points. After conducting a low-key campaign, Hochul has changed her strategy recently to reaffirm her commitment to law and order, including an appearance this weekend with Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City and a former police captain. Hochul is the current governor, however she is not a particularly capable one. She was just become governor last year when Andrew Cuomo resigned under duress, and many voters are still unfamiliar with her. The unions and New York City neighbourhoods do not have the same devotion with the Buffalo native that allowed Cuomo to mobilise large numbers of Democratic voters and balance off possible disadvantages in other regions of the state. Many of those Democratic voters will need to abstain on November 8 for Zeldin to win, and he will also need to gain traction in the hostile political environment of New York City. Fay projected that the atmosphere would bring him within a few points, and that it would be up to him and his campaign to send him over the top.