Kathy Hochul defeats Republican Lee Zeldin in Democratic triumph against close GOP threat

New York’s first-ever woman governor defeats Trump-backed candidate who refused to concede

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 09 November 2022 07:28 GMT
Kathy Hochul thanks ‘bold’ New Yorkers after winning re-election

New Yorkers have elected Governor Kathy Hochul to a full term, becoming the first woman in the state’s history to be voted into the governor’s office, according to Associated Press projections.

She defeated Republican candidate Lee Zeldin, the Long Island congressman endorsed by Donald Trump, in a closely watched race with polls predicting Ms Hochul’s victory on relatively slim margins in a state with a large Democratic electorate.

“I’m not here to make history. I’m here to make a difference,” the governor said in remarks to supporters on 8 November. “I will lead with strength and compassion, not with fear and anger, and together, we’ll put our values to work to lift up all and leave no one behind.”

In his own remarks to supporters after midnight, Mr Zeldin appeared not yet prepared to concede, saying that “it’s gonna be a little frustrating for the members of the media who didn’t want us ever to be in contention.”

“What’s going to happen is over the course of these next couple of hours you’re going to see the race continue to get closer and closer and closer,” he told supporters in Manhattan.

Ms Hochul characterised the 2022 race as a critical referendum against the former president’s agenda and right-wing extremism, as well as a vote to support democracy and abortion rights, while Mr Zeldin accused the state’s Democratic leadership of failing to combat violent crime and keep New Yorkers safe.

She took office in 2021 after then-Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations and a pending impeachment probe.

Dozens of GOP candidates who embraced the former president and challenged the results of the 2020 presidential election have appeared on ballots across the US. But Mr Zeldin was among the only major candidates running in a close election in a state where voters have resoundingly rejected Mr Trump’s agenda. President Joe Biden received roughly 61 per cent of the vote in New York in 2020.

Polls leading up to Election Day reflected a race that has been worryingly too close for Ms Hochul’s campaign, and Republicans have been pouncing at the chance to chip away at the state’s reliable Democratic firewall ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

With roughly 90 per cent of ballots counted after midnight, Ms Hochul was leading Mr Zeldin with 53 per cent of the vote against Mr Zeldin’s 47 per cent, with roughly 5.5 million votes tallied.

The governor received last-minute, high-profile boosts of support at campaign rallies in the state featuring President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and 2016 Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton.

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned with Governor Kathy Hochul on Election Day. (Getty Images)

The governor continued her downstate campaign streak through Election Day, when she walked through Queens with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

She told reporters that voters are “alarmed” by Mr Zeldin’s candidacy.

“He didn’t believe in our democracy and really worked to overturn the presidential election in 2020,” she said. “I think people are very alarmed that there’s any kind of prospect that he can become governor. I think that’s a very motivating factor for people at the polls.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, campaigned with Mr Zeldin on Long Island, and Mr Trump gave him his “complete [and] total endorsement.”

If elected, Mr Zeldin would have been at significant odds with the state’s Democratic majority in the state legislature, as well as Democratic officials who are leading investigations into the former president and his business empire.

Mr Zeldin pledged to fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office is pursuing a criminal probe into the former president.

The candidate – buoyed by $11m in support from billionaire cosmetics mogul Ronald Lauder, as well as campaign contributions from other special interest groups – framed the race in stark, violent terms, grabbing national GOP attention by attacking New York’s Democratic leadership in his aggressive pitch for crack down on crime. Similar anti-crime agendas were central to reactionary Republican campaigns across the US.

Ms Hochul, however, has raised more than $48m since taking office, a massive campaign war chest that fuelled campaign ads attacking Mr Zeldin while touting her administartion’s accomplishments within her year in office.

The governor told supporters on Tuesday that she will “lead with strength and compassion, not anger and fear” – an apparent reference to Republican campaigns targeting Democratic officials to exploit voter perceptions of rising crime.

She said she will build a state “where we live without fear, safe in our neighborhoods and our subways with illegal guns off our street.”

“The lesson of tonight’s victory is that given the choice,” Ms Hochul said in her remarks, “New Yorkers refuse to go backward on our long march toward progress.”

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