Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Lee Zeldin wasted little time focusing their attention on each other after winning their respective primaries — laying out visions for their general-election campaigns in a string of media appearances Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
The first of the attacks came from Hochul, less than a half hour after delivering her victory speech Tuesday night.
The governor had just scored a convincing win, picking up more than two-thirds of the vote in a three-way race. And by this point, it was clear her opponent in November would be Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican who cruised to victory in the GOP race.
“There is no comparison between us, and that will be very clear in the next few months of elections,” Hochul told reporters, a floor below Tribeca Rooftop, the Manhattan event venue where her supporters gathered to enjoy an open bar – three of them , actually – and nosh on hors d’oeuvres while watching results come in.
Zeldin was just as blunt.
“Are we ready to fire Kathy Hochul?” Zeldin said moments after he took the stage at his own primary party in Baldwin on Long Island.
During his victory speech, Zeldin made clear he intends to focus on curbing a rise in crime – including a push to repeal the state’s cashless bail reforms – and pocket book issues, such as taxes and the rising costs of consumer goods.
He painted Hochul as a politician who was pulled too far to the left to win her primary, willing to change her positions to win more votes.
“She’s in over her head,” Zeldin said. “She’s a walking identity crisis, to be honest. She’s been pandering to a far left in this state. She was concerned about her primary today.”
Hochul’s message, meanwhile, focused heavily on the back-to-back US Supreme Court decisions last week overturning Roe v. Wade and making it easier to obtain a permit to legally carry a firearm in public – both of which Zeldin supported, despite polls showing New York voters broadly back abortion rights and gun-control measures.
And Hochul made clear she will highlight Zeldin’s votes against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election in two states, even after the Jan. 6 insurrection disrupted the vote at the US Capitol.
“We will be able to demonstrate a strong contrast between New York values and what Lee Zeldin has done in Congress, whether it’s his support for the insurrectionists, whether it’s his abhorrence to women’s rights, whether it’s his support for more guns and not less guns on the streets,” Hochul said.
Hochul starts the general-election campaign with the advantage of a major Democratic enrollment edge.
As of February, New York state was home to 11.9 million active registered voters. Of those, 5.9 million are Democrats, compared to 2.6 million Republicans. Independent voters – those who aren’t enrolled in a party – actually outnumbered Republicans by about 68,000, according to data from the state Board of Elections.
No Republican has won a statewide race in New York since 2002, when then-Gov. George Pataki was elected to a third term.
At his party Tuesday night, Zeldin pleaded with Republicans to unify in hopes of breaking up Democrats’ grip on power in Albany. He said his tough-on-crime message will resonate with moderate voters. Andrew Giuliani and Rob Astorino, who ran against Zeldin, have already come out to support the nominee for the general election.
“It is important that as we move forward, that we all move forward united, focused on the main event: Defeating Kathy Hochul and ending one-party rule,” he said. “One goal, one team, top down, bottom up.”