EDITORIAL: Primaries gave voters a very clear choice for governor

PHOTOGRAPHER:

People who stay home on Election Day often say it’s because they don’t have a clear choice among the candidates.

Republicans, Democrats, politicians. They’re all the same. So why bother?

Well, they won’t have that excuse in this year’s race for governor.

Following last Tuesday’s primaries — in which Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin were picked via their respective primaries to face each other for governor in November — voters were provided a very clear choice.

The differences between the two candidates, and the potential impact the election of either could have on the state, are significant.

Other than both serving in Congress and both being lawyers, the two don’t share many characteristics, personally or politically. In fact, the differences are startling.

Hochul, 63, a native of Buffalo, was a low-key lieutenant governor before last August, when she rose to replace the once-popular, now scandal-plagued Andrew Cuomo, a boss with whom she reportedly had a distant relationship.

Because she wasn’t close to Cuomo, she’s been able to slough off her connection to his negatives, which include political corruption; allegations that he mishandled the pandemic response and tried to cover up nursing home deaths attributed to his policies; and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

The state’s first female governor inherited a very voter-friendly, big-spending state budget floated by a waterfall of federal tax dollars, and she’s benefiting from the political fallout from the recent Supreme Court decisions on concealed carry weapons and abortion.

She won her primary handily against two solid challengers and has more than $30 million in her campaign war chest that’s expected to rise to $50 million.

She’s endured two minor political scrapes — one for her single-handed support of a very generous state subsidy to keep her hometown Buffalo Bills in Buffalo; the other for the resignation and replacement of her self-appointed lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, over a campaign finance scandal.

Other than that, she’s had a relatively quiet 10 months in office.

Zeldin, 42, is the Republican Party establishment candidate who won a somewhat close primary against the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani and former losing gubernatorial candidate Rob Astornio.

A military veteran and former state senator, he’s the political polar opposite of Hochul. He most recently declared his strong support for the recent Supreme Court decisions on abortion and gun control. He’s also been a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, who’s very unpopular in the state. Zeldin supported Trump’s election lie and voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election, which both could be big strikes against him that Hochul’s campaign will exploit in her ads.

So voters have a clear choice.

Given that Democrats hold a heavy enrollment advantage over Republicans in the state, the fact that Hochul will be able to raise tons more money and the fact that her positions align with the liberal bent of the state, it’s easy to assume she’ll win by a landslide.

But Zeldin, 20 years Hochul’s junior, could capitalize on his appeal to upstate Republicans and independents, whereas Hochul isn’t as connected to the downstate Democrats who dominate her party as Cuomo was and only has a few months as an incumbent.

If Zeldin is able to successfully downplay his connection to Trump, appeal to voters fed up with the status quo, play up his military service and capitalize on a red wave in Congress, Zeldin could make it a race.

Whoever wins will be able to make a significant impact on the direction of state government for the next four years.

Either way, residents of New York have a real choice for governor this year. And no good excuse for staying home on Election Day.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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