Hochul’s last-minute retreat to friendly territory

The Democratic governor has focused her last campaigning hours on shoring up enthusiasm in the bluest parts of the (supposedly) blue state.

Gov. Kathy Hochul campaigned in deep blue parts of the state over the weekend, including at Goddard Riverside Community Center in Manhattan.

Gov. Kathy Hochul campaigned in deep blue parts of the state over the weekend, including at Goddard Riverside Community Center in Manhattan. YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Logically, a state like New York should never go red. Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans statewide, along with independents who typically sway elections. With the strength of New York City especially, it would seem unthinkable that a member of the GOP would have a shot at governor in 2022. 

But that’s exactly the situation the state finds itself in just a day before the election, as GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin has surged in public polling in recent weeks, threatening incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul. Despite Democrats’ many advantages, turnout – especially in midterm elections – has never been their strong suit. Attempting to combat the traditional Democratic pitfalls as Zeldin’s support in swing regions of the state increases, Hochul has spent the final days of her campaign with big-name Democratic officials in deep blue parts of the state to rally support among her base. The strategy: Boost turnout in safe areas to offset the ground she has already lost.

Hochul has spent a lot of time in the past two weeks in and around New York City. Democrats always win there, so her presence is less about winning swing voters and much more about getting potentially apathetic members of her party to actually vote. Coupled with major names – including President Joe Biden – Hochul has doubled down on leftwing talking points like abortion rights to motivate registered Democrats to head to the polls. “This is the biggest Democratic county in the United States of America,” former President Bill Clinton said at a Saturday rally in Brooklyn, parroting a common – if not entirely accurate – claim about the powerful voting bloc in the borough. “But if you don’t show up? You might as well be the number of people in this room.”

Clinton’s point is particularly relevant this year, with an unpopular Democrat in the White House and the party in control of both chambers of Congress. Despite conservative Supreme Court rulings that galvanized more liberal voters this summer, Republicans have gained back their previous ground and more. After all, it’s incredibly rare to see the politicians with the national profile of Biden, Clinton and Vice President Kamala Harris campaigning in New York during the midterms.

Early indicators seemed to show that Democrats were not turning out in the numbers it would need to propel Hochul to victory. In the Bronx in particular, early voting numbers lagged significantly behind the other boroughs and comparable past turnout. But following a campaign blitz from Hochul in the Bronx and refocused energy to get out the vote in the city as a whole, those numbers increased dramatically in the final days of early voting. “It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish,” state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, told City & State after a Sunday night rally with the president. “It’s the fourth quarter that matters, and Bronxites are fully equipped to make it happen in the fourth quarter.”

It’s the first and easily most tangible evidence that Hochul’s late-game focus on deeply Democratic parts of the state has been successful. “I think if the election were ten days ago, it would have been much worse,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said Monday morning at a Hochul campaign event. “Our side’s really coming out.” Certainly, the mood a week ago among Democrats was much more dire, and an Emerson College poll that suggested Zeldin’s surge had stagnated helped to reassure some on the left.

Hochul’s decision to cap off her campaign with her last major rally in the Westchester city of Yonkers also speaks to her strategy of galvanizing her base in the final days. The event boasted the biggest get of the race so far, President Biden. Despite his unpopularity in the county as a whole, he remains a vote-getter among Democrats in a state like New York, particularly in reliably blue regions. Easily over 1,000 people turned out for the rally he headlined on Sunday night, met with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. The theme of the night, repeated by many of the speakers preceding Biden, encapsulated the last ditch effort: “When Democrats vote, Democrats win.”

With reporting by Jeff Coltin