The Fight For the Governor’s Mansion Exemplifies Our Current Political Climate

Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin face off for the role of governor of New York, in a competitive race that represents this year’s nationwide midterms as a microcosm of the whole.


Phil Scroggs / Unsplash

The November 8th, 2022 election for Governor of the State of New York is a microcosm of the political climate in the United States at large.

Across the country, the upcoming midterm elections on Tuesday, November 8th, 2022, are looming large. President Biden’s agenda stands in the balance as Democrats and Republicans fight for control over the House and Senate in elections that are shaping up to be as much of a referendum on the previous administration as they are on the current one. Typically, the midterms are a reflection of the country’s opinions about the party in power, but as former President Trump remains in the spotlight, this midterm election may shake out differently than those of past years.

In New York State, this year’s midterms include the race for governor. Incumbent governor Kathy Hochul — who stepped up from her role as Lieutenant governor following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation — is running against Long Island representative Lee Zeldin. The two candidates have wildly different platforms, promising two distinct visions of New York State.

As the incumbent, Hochul (recently endorsed by the New York Times, an influential newspaper with millions of readers) promises to continue legislating exactly as she has been. Her platform emphasizes pandemic recovery, criminal justice reform, protecting reproductive rights, and keeping the cost of living down. In particular, she has placed an emphasis on protecting abortion rights in a post-Roe v. Wade America. While many states with Republican leadership are experiencing crackdowns on abortion access, Hochul — a Democrat and the first female governor of New York — makes it clear that under her leadership, New York will remain a haven for those seeking abortions. 

Kathy Hochul rose to the governor’s mansion in August 2021, following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo. (NY Senate Photo, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Zeldin’s policy on abortion differs vastly, but that’s not what he wants New Yorkers to focus on. In a state where abortion access is supported by a large margin, he is not boasting of his votes against reproductive access. This year alone, he voted against the Right to Contraception Act (HR 8373), Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 (HR 8296), and the Ensuring Abortion Access Act of 2022 (HR 8297). Despite this, Zeldin has promised to leave abortion rights alone if he is elected. This could be a genuinely held belief of his, but it could also be a ploy to seem less extreme to swing voters scared away by harsh policies.

Whether or not that is true remains unclear, but his positions on crime, COVID-19, and policing are another story. He sticks to a tough on crime platform: opposing any attempt at police reform, pushing to hire more police officers statewide, and clinging to qualified immunity. He is also against cashless bail (“New York’s bail law currently eliminates money bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. Those accused of these crimes are either freed without restrictions while their case plays out, or released under certain conditions like electronic monitoring.” – NYCLU), which was put in place in New York under the Cuomo administration. Cash bail allows wealthier individuals to pay their way out of some consequences while poorer individuals can’t afford it, leading to disproportionate consequences for people living in poverty.

He is also staunchly against COVID-19 restrictions and has been for months. As Hochul moderately repealed restrictions, attempting to satisfy both ends of the mask-wearing spectrum, Zeldin painted masking as a restriction to personal freedom. On his campaign website, he places ending COVID-related mandates — both mask and vaccine-related — under the tab of “Defending Your Freedom.” He, like many outspoken Republicans, sees precautions as a direct attack on one’s liberties. While this may have been an unpopular stance a year or two ago, it may now appeal to younger voters who are sick of masking and taking precautions. A look at Bronx Science shows that most young people — including those who would consider themselves very liberal — are done with these precautions. Unlike earlier in the pandemic, masking has for the most part lost its political affiliations. 

New York has been a democratic stronghold since the late 1970s, with a consistent majority in national elections. Focusing on a state level, however, a different narrative appears. While the deep blue city has almost half the state’s voters, there is a strong Republican presence in upstate regions, and the suburbs of Long Island and Westchester and Rockland counties can be closer to purple than blue. Still, the city’s large population means that the Republican candidates usually don’t bode well in elections. The state has not had a Republican governor in fifteen years, and Zeldin will probably not be the one to break that streak. While Hochul is not up in the polls by as much as many New Yorkers would like, it’s still a slight margin in her favor (fifty percent for Hochul versus forty-six percent for Zeldin, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll taken on October 18th, 2022) compared to the past few national elections. While this race itself is particularly tight, which makes for intrigue, neither candidate is particularly unique. A further intrigue of the race comes from how perfectly it echoes the midterms on whole.

Lee Zeldin, speaks at a conference by Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit. (Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

In Washington, the Democrats currently hold the presidency, the House, and the Senate. The incumbent party typically struggles in the midterms, as every ill the country is facing (from inflation to crime to the pandemic) can be easily pinned on them by the party out of power. That’s what Hochul is experiencing from Zeldin, and what Democrats around the country are seeing in their reelection campaigns, and this comes as standard practice for a midterm election. But as former President Donald Trump refuses to fade into the shadows, another factor comes into play.

Zeldin has unapologetically tied himself to Trump. He flaunted his vote to overturn the 2020 election and supported Trump, even after it became clear that he had lost the presidency. Hochul has used that as an angle to attack him, portraying him as an insurrectionist and conspiracy theorist. But given the current state of the Republican party, Republicans who support him do not see this as a legitimate attack. I recently saw a television ad where Hochul points at Zeldin’s vote against election certification and support of Trump. From the first few seconds of the ad, I couldn’t tell which candidate it belonged to — whether it was a smear ad by Hochul or a boast by Zeldin. 

In this way, many of the attacks that the Hochul campaign has carried out have become useless with the Republican base. Calling Lee Zeldin an anti-abortion insurrectionist might convince a few undecided voters, but to a Trump devotee (as much of the Republican party has become), both labels are enticing. 

This is in no way unique to this election. In the Southern state of Georgia, former President Trump has endorsed Herschel Walker and David Perdue, both of whom have supported claims that the election was stolen. (Walker’s campaign is still running and Perdue lost in the primaries.) In an election cycle that historically pins all the country’s ills on the incumbent party, the party out of power has an unusual position.

Donald Trump has refused to step out of the limelight, even two years after his defeat. Between his conspiracies to overthrow the election results to his golden-ticket endorsements, he remains a major figure in the Republican party. He has spent a lot of time in the news lately, due to multiple criminal investigations beginning to ramp up, and a subpoena by the January 6th Committee. Zeldin’s alignment with him means a lot to the Republican base, while it also repels many moderates.

All of this to say that Lee Zeldin is a perfect representative of the kinds of candidates running up and down the ballot on the Republican side, and Hochul’s focus on reproductive rights and the 2020 election is emblematic of the stances many Democrats plan to take.

Statewide elections in New York are not typically competitive, yet this one is. Both Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin know this. However this election plays out, the campaigning and the angles used by the two candidates are a microcosm of campaigns being run across the country. 

New York is now a battleground for the election of the governor, so make sure you vote.

Statewide elections in New York are not typically competitive, yet this one is. Both Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin know this. However this election plays out, the campaigning and the angles used by the two candidates are a microcosm of campaigns being run across the country.