Hochul gets early boost as NY gubernatorial race takes shape

Photo illustration of Kathy Hochul on a back and white background with a green New York state cutout outlined in red with the names of cities. New York Capitol building also in background to the left
Clara Longo de Freitas/Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is grabbing an early lead in the state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary as would-be competitors start to nip at her heels in a race that could emerge as a tea leaf for the direction of the broader party. 

Hochul, who took office this year after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) resignation over sexual harassment claims, is the only Democrat thus far to declare her candidacy. But state Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have all hinted they’re mulling bids of their own — and all would bring their own constituencies to fuel potential campaigns against Hochul.

“There are rumored announcements within the next couple of weeks, and I think that’s what everyone’s looking out for. But the longer the sitting governor has the field to herself, I think it makes it a little bit harder for others who also want to jump in. Which is not to say that if they do, they will not run very, very vigorous challenges,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Jon Reinish. 

Hochul ascended to the governorship in August after Cuomo’s resignation and has since hit the ground running, waging efforts to curtail the coronavirus pandemic including by issuing masking mandates.  

Hochul also made an early announcement that she’s running for a term of her own next year and could be enjoying a honeymoon period with New York voters. A Marist poll released earlier this month showed Hochul posting double-digit leads over James and Williams. 

“I think the key thing at this point is that Gov. Hochul is fairly well-known among New Yorkers. Democrats like her and at this point are willing to support her in our effort to win a term in her own right,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. 

However, those numbers stand to change should other potential candidates decide to get off the bench. 

James, who’s rooted in Brooklyn, garnered national attention after tangling with the Trump administration and pursuing legal proceedings against the National Rifle Association.  

Williams, meanwhile, is a progressive favorite and narrowly lost a primary challenge to Hochul in 2018, expanding his name identification outside of his stronghold, which is also located in Brooklyn. Williams launched a gubernatorial exploratory committee in September. 

De Blasio has floated another run for some other office after saying “I want to serve,” with rumors swirling he has an eye on the governor’s mansion despite low approval ratings in New York City. And Rep. Thomas Suozzi, who represents a Long Island district, is also thought to be mulling a campaign.

Even Cuomo is considering another run, though while the Marist poll showed him with 19 percent support in a primary, he would likely face intense headwinds in a comeback bid. 

It’s still unclear how seriously the potential candidates are considering running against Hochul, but some may be biding their time as they observe how effectively the new governor fills the vacuum left by Cuomo. 

“When a giant figure like Andrew Cuomo is no longer in place, there’s always a huge game of musical chairs in New York politics,” Reinish said. “But the fact that neither the attorney general nor the public advocate or any other of these rumored candidates have jumped in yet to quickly try to take momentum away from Gov. Hochul may speak volumes.” 

Observers told The Hill that James would likely pose the greatest challenge to Hochul of all the would-be contenders. A Black woman, James would likely perform well with African American voters and voters in New York City, where the vast majority of primary votes will be cast. She’ll also not rub voters the wrong way like a male candidate might in trying to unseat Hochul — the first woman ever to serve as governor of the Empire State.  

Still, Williams would likely also garner a sizeable amount of support in a primary with his loyal following among the state’s progressive groups, and is battle-tested after winning citywide and running a close race against Hochul in 2018. 

For Hochul, however, a crowded field is beneficial. She’s the only major candidate with roots in upstate New York, so a crowded field dividing up the deep pool of votes in New York City could behoove her nomination chances if she remains at least competitive there and cleans up elsewhere.  

“The biggest concern for her has to be one or two downstate candidates and the lion’s share of the vote going to one of them,” said Miringoff, referencing New York City’s results. “She has to hold her own since the city and the suburbs are most of the votes. There’s only so many votes you get upstate. Even if you run up the score, it’s a shallow pond.” 

In the meantime, Hochul has cultivated early momentum in her quest for the nomination. As the only declared candidate in the race, she has racked up endorsements from state and local officials, including Jay Jacobs, the chair of the state Democratic Party. She’ll also be able to use her perch as governor to conduct business with key groups that can impact the election. 

The primary race will likely draw national attention as a potential sign of the direction of the party. If many of the possible candidates ultimately wage bids, various voting blocs would be represented, including Black voters, male and female voters, progressives and centrists, and urban and suburban voters.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Bill de Blasio Kathy Hochul
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