ALBANY — Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, is now trailing Gov. Kathy Hochul by just 10 percentage points, one of the closest margins in a New York governor’s race in years, a new Marist Poll released Thursday found.
Seven percent of voters reported being undecided in the survey gauging support for Hochul at 51% while Zeldin notched 41%.
Among voters who signaled they will definitely vote in the Nov. 8 election, Zeldin, a U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and a lawyer, was within eight points of Hochul, the survey of 1,117 New York voters reported.
“Although Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate lead in very blue New York, the race for governor still bears watching,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist poll said in a statement.
“Republicans say they are more likely to vote, enthusiasm for Zeldin among his supporters exceeds Hochul’s and any shift to crime in the closing weeks is likely to benefit Zeldin,” Miringoff added.
Zeldin on crime
The poll was released on the same day Zeldin released his most detailed plan to date for changing the direction of New York’s criminal justice policy.
Should he win the election, he promised his first acts on January 1 would be to declare a crime state of emergency, contending such a move would allow him to suspend the cashless bail along with measures restricting the use of special isolation units for violent inmates and limiting the ability of authorities to send parolees back to prison when they have violated laws.
Zeldin, appearing with his running mate, Alison Esposito, at a New York City event, said he would work with Democrats, liberals, conservatives and Republicans to effectuate the criminal justice changes he says will enhance public safety.
“New Yorkers should be able to walk these streets and feel safe,” said Zeldin, whose two teenage daughters escaped injury Sunday when they were in their home when two men linked to gang activity were shot just outside the residence.
Hochul hits back
Hochul’s campaign and her Democratic allies disputed Zeldin’s claim that he could undo the criminal justice measures that supporters argue have brought greater fairness to a criminal justice system with a prison population dominated by African American and Hispanic convicted felons.
While Zeldin has made toughening the response to criminal activity the centerpiece of his campaign, Hochul has blasted him as “extreme and dangerous.”
In a Thursday night tweet, Hochul argued Zeldin is a threat to abortion rights, which are codified in state law: “No matter what Zeldin says, his record speaks for itself — he celebrated the end of Roe, voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and pledged to appoint a pro-life health commissioner.”
Hochul landed the dig after Zeldin released a new ad in which he vowed he will not change abortion law.
Veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who is not involved in the race, said Democratic candidates are taking risks when they focus heavily on the abortion issue.
“For a lot of people, abortion is not as important as whether they can they afford a loaf of bread,” said Sheinkopf, echoing the findings in several polls. “When people get in that voting booth, are they going to say: ‘What’s most important to me? The right to choose for women or I can’t pay my bills and I’m worried I’m going to get shot?’”
Shades of Pataki?
The Marist poll found 43% of voters responded they have an unfavorable view of Hochul, while Zeldin left an unfavorable impression on 37% of those who participated in the survey conducted Oct. 3 through Oct. 6.
The two candidates are scheduled to face each other in their first debate Oct. 25 — four days before early voting begins statewide.
Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said the Marist poll indicates Zeldin is capable of closing the remaining gap between him and Hochul. If he does, he said, it will be reminiscent of the 1994 gubernatorial election, when a then little known GOP state senator, George Pataki, was trailing in the polls only to defeat three term Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo on election day.
“All the polls had George Pataki down by double digits, and now Lee Zeldin is in a stronger position than he was with three weeks left to go,” Stec said. “I think you’re going to see more people turning to Zeldin now.”
The new Marist poll is the first time this year that organization has surveyed voters in the New York governor’s race.
A Sept. 28 poll by Siena College reported Hochul was leading Zeldin then, 54% to 37%.
The Siena poll sampled more than 400 fewer voters than the new Marist survey.
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