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Hochul, Zeldin rely on big names in the final days of the campaign

Gov. Kathy Hochul, left, and Rep. Lee Zeldin.
New York NOW
Gov. Kathy Hochul, left, and Rep. Lee Zeldin.

New York’s competitive governor’s race is entering its final weekend, and Democrat Kathy Hochul and Republican Lee Zeldin are pulling out all the stops, appearing with some heavy-hitter political names.

This weekend, President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton will be at rallies with Hochul. And Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, spoke Thursday at a Hochul campaign event.

“Every issue that I can think of, that I imagine that you could care about, is literally on the ballot,” Clinton said.

Zeldin has attracted his share of political stars, too, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“If Lee Zeldin gets into office,” DeSantis proclaimed at a recent rally, “New York will become a law-and-order state.”

For months, Hochul was much better financed and was scoring higher in the polls than Zeldin as she took actions to strengthen abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and enacted gun safety measures after a mass shooting in Buffalo.

But the Long Island congressman has been catching up in recent weeks, benefiting from a focus on anti-crime proposals and a vow to repeal the state’s bail reform laws. Zeldin’s campaign also has been taking in millions of dollars from political action committees.

For the final week of the campaign, both had $6 million left to spend, and they used part of it for a relentless stream of television ads.

But in a close race, getting supporters to the polls is key. Both candidates hope that drawing on some big names in their parties will ramp up excitement.

Along with Hillary Clinton, Vice President Kamala Harris joined Hochul’s rally at Barnard College in New York City on Thursday.

“Who is your governor matters,” Harris said.

Hochul told the several hundred women at the rally that after the overturning of Roe, abortion rights would be in jeopardy in New York if she’s not elected.

“You know why nothing changed in the state of New York (after Roe was overturned)?” Hochul asked the crowd. “Because I’m the governor.”

Earlier this week, Hochul said she hopes the prominent political figures at the rallies will generate excitement and help attract New York women who aren’t Democrats to vote for her.

“The crossover of Republican and independent women who know that I am the person who is the firewall from having their rights to an abortion protected or having them perhaps stripped away by a governor who is hostile to their interests,” Hochul said.

Zeldin has said even though he is personally against abortion, if he’s elected, he won’t change the state’s abortion rights laws.

The Republican candidate spoke Thursday night at a rally near Albany with Republican Party rising star and North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik that attracted more than 2,000 people.

Thursday’s event was the largest gathering for a GOP candidate since nearly 30 years ago, when George Pataki, the last Republican governor in New York, was elected. The parallels are not lost on Zeldin, who adapted a line from a Prince song.

“Are you all ready to party like it’s 1994 again?” he asked the crowd.

Zeldin promises to enact a crime state of emergency on day one if he’s elected. He also said he'll suspend the bail reform laws and other recent criminal justice system changes. He said it’s the most important issue for New Yorkers, and he claimed Hochul doesn’t get it.

“Kathy Hochul doesn’t want to talk about rising crime in the streets,” Zeldin said. “She says that she doesn’t understand why that’s so important to me.”

Hochul said public safety is a top priority for her but called Zeldin’s approach naive and simplistic. She said repealing existing criminal justice laws won’t solve the problem.

There is one big name that has not appeared on the campaign trail in the governor’s race. Former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Zeldin, is not scheduled to stump for him. Trump is unpopular with many New York voters.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.