New York Gov. Kathy Hochul joined Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin in her first and only pre-election debate on Tuesday, offering a tense and heated exchange about crime, abortion rights, the 2020 presidential election and campaign finance ethics.
Their surprise came as the latest polls show a tighter race, with the Democratic lead shrinking to single digits in one poll. No Republican has won statewide office in New York since 2002.
Zeldin, a conservative backed by former President Donald Trump, has campaigned furiously against the state’s bail reform law and has criticized Hochul’s handling of crime, which has topped the list of voters’ concerns in nearly every poll in the race.
Both candidates sought to align with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who has pushed for significant new delays in the bailout law, but distanced himself from Trump and his successor, President Joe Biden.
Zeldin praised Trump’s policy agenda during the debate, but, in a nod to a state that voted for his opponent, stopped short of directly saying whether the former president should run for re-election in 2024.
Hochul, breaking from the tepid remarks of fellow Democrats, was clear and specific about Biden’s future. Asked if he thought he should run again, he said, “Yeah, yeah.”
Here are four big takeaways from Tuesday night’s debate.
Crime has emerged as a major issue in the election and featured in large parts of Tuesday’s debate, as Zeldin Hochul criticized him for not taking more aggressive steps to combat its rise and vowed to fire a controversial Democratic Manhattan prosecutor.
Hochul responded by talking up various initiatives, but often tried to turn the tables on the Republican by voicing his opposition to gun control measures, including a bipartisan deal recently passed in Congress.
“I’m running to get our streets back,” Zeldin said during the first round of the debate.
Hochul called his opponent’s attacks vague and cynical.
“You can work on keeping people scared or you can work on keeping people safe,” he said, adding, “There’s no crime-fighting plan if it doesn’t have guns.”
Zeldin sought to sidestep the gun argument, arguing that firearms have not been involved in many hate crimes in recent months or when innocent bystanders have been driven onto subway tracks in recent months.
“They tell me these stories,” Zeldin said of voters he’s met, “about having to hug a pole or grab a railing because they’re afraid of being pushed in front of an oncoming subway car.”
“What you have is rhetoric,” Hochul replied. “I have a record of getting things done.”
The state’s bail reform law, passed in 2019 but twice withdrawn since then, was also a sticking point. Even after the moderators spread the statistics, it is difficult to discern whether the law that makes it difficult to keep suspects in preventive detention has led to an increase in crimes, the two candidates – Zeldin to a greater extent – talked about themselves. desire to make more changes.
Hochul, before and during the campaign, looked for new adjustments. Zeldin wants the legislation off the books entirely — a desire that also echoes some New York liberals — calling it “the will of the people.”
In a state won by nearly 2 million votes for Biden, with more than 60% of the vote, Zeldin’s vote against securing the congressional election has become a reliable one for Democrats.
On Tuesday night, Hochul used it early and often.
When Zeldin spoke about trying to unseat Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who was elected to the job, Hochul linked it to the congressman’s actions after the 2020 presidential election.
“In Lee Zeldin’s world,” he said, “you cancel elections you don’t agree with.”
Zeldin said he had the “constitutional authority” and “constitutional duty” to try to oust Bragg, who has been criticized for not prosecuting low-level crimes more aggressively.
In the end, the moderators offered Zeldin some sort of opportunity to disavow his past actions. Now that he knows what he’s doing, when asked if he would still vote against securing the 2020 election, Zeldin said no.
“Today the issue still continues,” said the Republican. “The integrity of elections should always matter.”
Then, when asked if he would accept defeat if Hochule won in two weeks, Zeldin said he would, but his disdain for the question was palpable.
“First of all, losing is not an option,” Zeldin replied. “Secondly, playing along with your hypothetical question: of course” he said he would accept the results.
Republicans also came under consistent attack for their anti-abortion policy views and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade for celebrating the overturning decision.
Zeldin has argued that the case is moot: New York state has adopted strict protections for abortion rights and could not change them even if it wanted to.
However, he did not directly answer a question from the moderators asking if he would sign the new restrictions if Republicans took over the state legislature, and Zeldin insisted that something was not important, “it’s not happening.”
Hochul returned to the issue frequently, touting the state law and promising to protect it from conservative politicians like Zeldin.
“What we have in New York state is just a codification of Roe v. Wade,” Hochul said, when asked if he would put any restrictions on abortion. Then he added: “You know why nothing changed the day after Dobbs’ decision? Because I’m the governor of New York and he’s not.”
Zeldin also sought to deflect questions about a recent memo, which he has since backtracked on, saying he wanted to appoint a state health commissioner opposed to abortion rights.
“My litmus test,” he insisted, “is that (the health commissioner) will do an exceptional job.”
Again, when asked whether he supported funding for Planned Parenthood, Zeldin sidestepped and suggested he would be a bargaining chip for Albany’s Democratic leaders.
“I’ve heard New Yorkers say they don’t want their tax dollars for, say, people who live 1,500 miles from here,” Zeldin said.
The Bills have one of the best records in pro football this year, but Zeldin expects Hochul to be able to lose, at least outside of Buffalo.
The state this year approved $600 million for the team, owned by a billionaire, to build a new stadium in Buffalo. The region is earning approximately $250 million.
Hochul defended what critics call the corporate handout as a job-creating maneuver (an argument belied by other cities’ past experience doing the same) and said the Bills were “looking elsewhere” or considering moving to another city, saying yours. heard from people that they had been in contact with officials from other states.
“You think about community identity — what Broadway is to New York City, the Buffalo Bills are to West New York,” said Hochul, a Buffalo native.
Zeldin bristled at the suggestion the Bills were seriously considering leaving the city — “They’re not,” he snapped — and called the eleventh-hour deal to secure the money “irresponsible in process and in substance.”
Throughout the debate, Zeldin also criticized what he described as Hochul’s “pay to play” governor, accused of exchanging state contract cash for campaign donations.
Hochul denied the accusation, as various local media vaguely reported.
“There has never been a quid pro quo, a policy change, as a result of a contribution,” the governor said, before launching into an attack on Zeldin’s outside support, specifically the more than $8 million invested in Zeldin super PACs by Ronald Lauder. , heir to cosmetics giant Estée Lauder.