New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul will win a first full term in office, CNN projects, defeating Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin in what developed into a surprisingly tense race in its final weeks.
Hochul’s victory keeps New York Democrats on track to maintain their now nearly two-decade-old winning streak in statewide elections. A Buffalo native, Hochul took over the top job in August 2021 following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, the three-term governor who faced impeachment amid a sexual harassment scandal. Despite being his lieutenant governor, Hochul and Cuomo were never closely aligned and she moved quickly upon taking office to clear it of his allies.
Already the first woman to hold the governor’s office in New York, Hochul will now become the first to win it in an election. Zeldin, a conservative acolyte of former President Donald Trump, ran a “law and order” campaign almost entirely focused on fears over rising crime and a 2019 criminal justice reform law that made it more difficult for judges to hold suspects in pre-trial detention. But he also tapped into frustration over the state of the economy, which has been slow to recover in and around New York City following the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and working class concerns over environmental initiatives like a plan to hike fees for automobiles entering heavily trafficked parts of the city.
Hochul, who in the latter part of the campaign dialed up her political outreach in New York City, where Democrats typically need about 70% of the vote to assure statewide victory, hammered Zeldin throughout the race over his anti-abortion positions and vote in Congress against certifying President Joe Biden’s election.
Like other blue state Republicans, Zeldin repeatedly insisted he had no plans to change abortion law in New York, where Democrats – both before and after the leak of the Supreme Court opinion striking down Roe was published – have passed a suite of comprehensive protections for patients and abortion providers.
But Zeldin undermined his promise with comments to an anti-abortion group suggesting he would appoint a like-minded state health commissioner, who would have significant power to shape policy. He walked those back, but in his lone debate with Hochul also hedged on whether he would back funding Planned Parenthood.