Multiple outlets have projected that Kathy Hochul has made history as the first woman to be elected governor of New York, winning a full term Tuesday night over GOP challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin, based on unofficial results from the state Board of Elections (BOE).
Hochul, the Democratic incumbent, defeated Zeldin – who represents much of Suffolk County in Congress. With 70% of the precincts reporting, Hochul has 55.77% of the vote (2,284,774) over Zeldin’s 43.34% (1,775,460). During Hochul’s victory speech at her Election Night watch party – held at the catering venue Capitale in Chinatown – she spoke to how she’d like to move the state forward in her first full term.
“Tonight, you made your voices heard loud and clear. And you made me the first woman ever elected governor in the state of New York. I’m not here to make history. I’m here to make a difference,” Hochul said. “Because of all of you. we will keep making progress. Breaking down barriers, breaking glass ceilings, helping New Yorkers achieve the greatness that it is capable of. And I will lead with strength and compassion. Not with fear and anger. And together we will put our values to work to lift up all and leave no one behind.”
Zeldin, however, did not concede the race, telling supporters in Midtown that he’s waiting for some 1.4 million votes yet to be counted across the Empire State.
“It’s been a battle where we’ve been focused on ideals. We’ve been bringing our message without apology or regret,” he said. “We came to this with passion to have a debate of ideas for a better direction for New York and we’re still totally committed towards seeing it through for the 1.4 million Election Day voters who have not yet had their vote cast and counted. We hope that as these results come in that we’ll be able to prevail, but we want it to come out now. While the night is still a bit young.”
Also projected to win was Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, who took the office earlier this year and ran with Hochul on a joint ticket. Former NYPD Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito was Zeldin’s running mate on the Republican ticket.
“It is our state that will be that guiding light for our country in these desperate times. This country needs New York right now. protecting the rights of everyone looking at the most vulnerable amongst us the marginalized and neglected the forgotten the exploited and we will achieve all of this through love we know we faced threats from an extreme anti-democratic and divisive brand of politics growing across this country that seems to call that hard-earned rights put together,” said Delgado. “Together right here in New York, we will stand up and defend our rights, reproductive rights. Voting rights, the right to have done and the right to access the benefits of the 21st-century economy for everyone and not just a privileged view.”
Despite a surge in the polls for Long Island rep in the last month of the race, Hochul seems to have gotten enough Democrats out to the polls Tuesday to come out on top. That’s especially the case in the Democratic stronghold of New York City, where Election Day turnout was strong, with 986,031 total check-ins at polling sites across the five boroughs as of 3 p.m., according to the city BOE. Some 432,600 people voted early in the city, making up 37% of the people who voted statewide – according to a published report.
Hochul rose up to become the state’s first woman governor last year following the resignation of her predecessor, former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who stepped down after being accused of sexual harassment by nearly a dozen women. Prior to becoming Cuomo’s lieutenant governor in 2015, Hochul represented part of western New York in Congress for two years and was Erie County clerk before that.
The state Democratic Party coalesced around Hochul early in the primary cycle, naming her the designee at its convention in February. She then went on to trounce her two primary challengers: U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Long Island) and city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Zeldin has been in Congress since 2014 after serving in the state Senate for four years. Before winning elected office, Zeldin – an attorney – had his own legal practice on Long Island. He’s also a veteran of the Iraq War and is still a member of the Army Reserve.
For much of the election cycle, Hochul refrained from holding campaign rallies, instead pursuing a so-called “Rose Garden strategy” of promoting her election bid by holding official government events where she announced new policies and funding allocations.
The governor didn’t campaign vigorously until the last two weeks before the election, after Zeldin started catching up to her in several public polls. Over the last week, Hochul held rallies across the New York City area with Democratic Party heavy hitters including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Bill Clinton and his wife former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Hochul also shifted her campaign messaging in the final weeks of the race from a focus on maintaining abortion access in the state, following the June U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, instead spotlighting her efforts to combat rising crime. Her campaign also hammered Zeldin on his cozy relationship with former President Donald Trump, pointing to his vote against certifying the 2020 election in favor of President Joe Biden.
The shift came after polling showed Zeldin’s campaign was being fueled by voters concerned about high crime.
Zeldin built his campaign around railing against recent criminal justice policies like the 2019 bail reforms passed by the state legislature that eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, blaming the crime wave that has hit the city during the pandemic on the changes. He’s also spent much of his campaign blasting progressive prosecutors like Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for “not enforcing the law.” – referring to the fact that Bragg indicated he wouldn’t bring charges in several low-level crimes when he took office in January.
The governor had a huge cash advantage over Zeldin – having raised $46 million since taking office last year as of early last month – throughout the race and led in public polls by double digits during the summer.
However, with the support of Republican Party stars like Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Zeldin was able to significantly bolster his own campaign war chest. With their help, he ranked in $6.4 million between July and October. That haul – along with the help of a couple of PACs mostly funded by cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder – allowed his campaign to blanket the airwaves with ads attacking Hochul over her performance on crime.
He also was able to close the polling gap by riding on the issues of public safety and the economy, although an aggregation of public polls by Real Clear Politics showed Hochul had averaged a 7-point advantage in surveys as voters cast their ballots Tuesday. But Zeldin’s late-in-the-game gains in the polls and fundraising weren’t enough to deliver him a win Tuesday night.
Before closing out her speech, Hochul reflected on the historic nature of her projected victory.
“I’ll tell you this, the road here from Buffalo was not always easy. I’ve felt the weight on my shoulders to make sure that every little girl and all of the women of this state, who’ve had to bang up against glass ceilings everywhere they turn, to know that a woman could be elected in her own right and successfully govern a state as rough and tumble as New York,” said Hochul. “And yes, the glass ceiling, like the one that’s above us here today, has finally been shattered in the state of New York.”