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Television ads in governor's race focus on abortion, crime

On the left, a brunette woman smiles as she speaks into a microphone at a conference. On the left, a middle-age man in a suit and tie smiles.
Hochul: New York NOW / Zeldin: WXXI File Photo
Gov. Kathy Hochul, left, and Rep. Lee Zeldin are facing off in the New York governor's race.

If you’ve turned on a TV anytime recently, it’s been hard to miss a campaign ad in the New York race for governor. The ads are hard-hitting and seek to define the candidates on two issues: crime and abortion.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, is seeking to win election to a full term to the post she inherited when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in a sexual harassment scandal. Her strategy is to negatively define her less well-known opponent, Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican.

“Lee Zeldin is extreme and dangerous,” a narrator intones in one ad as ominous music plays in the background.

Hochul’s campaign is running ads and sending out mailings, some to independent voters, that highlight Zeldin’s voting record on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Zeldin voted, along with many other Republicans, against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Hochul has also focused on Zeldin’s position opposing abortion. Hochul and other Democrats have said that matters more now that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Dobbs decision, overturned the abortion rights protections in Roe v. Wade.

One ad features longtime OB-GYN Dr. Katharine Morrison.

“I’m not easily shaken. But I’m terrified Lee Zeldin could become governor,” Morrison says in the ad. “He’s supported abortion bans so cruel, they include no exceptions for rape or incest.”

Initially, Hochul had the edge. She raised $45 million in just one year and was able to buy time on the airwaves to run positive ads about herself in the spring.

Zeldin began the race with little money, but he is catching up as Election Day draws nearer.

Fundraisers over the summer with Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis helped him gain $6.4 million, and as of early October, he had $4.5 million left to spend.

Zeldin’s campaign is focusing on the increase in violent crime over the past couple of years. He ties that to Hochul in an ad that shows scenes of violent assaults and robberies.

“You’re looking at actual violent crimes caught on camera in Kathy Hochul’s New York,” a female narrator says.

Zeldin is also aided by two super PACs, or political action committees. They are permitted under law to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, as long as they do not directly coordinate with the candidate. Billionaire conservative cosmetics heir Ron Lauder is one of the contributors to Save Our State NY and Safe Together New York. The PACs have raised over $4 million and have bought airtime.

“Hochul still defends the state’s disastrous cashless bail experiment,” the ad says.

In recent days, Hochul also has also received help from a PAC, the Build New York Fund, which is run by unions.

The ad also brings up the Jan. 6 uprising at the Capitol and tries to tie Zeldin to the event. It features the brother of one of the police officers who died after the violence.

In the absence of debates so far in the governor’s race, the ads have even more weight in influencing voters’ choices.

Hochul has agreed to one debate, but Zeldin said he won’t agree to that event unless the governor agrees to do multiple debates.

The ads do not portray the nuances of the candidate’s positions on the issues.

Zeldin is opposed to abortion, and told donors at a private fundraiser this spring that he would appoint a pro-life health commissioner, according to a recording obtained by Spectrum News. But lately, he’s said he would not act to change New York’s 2019 law that codified the rights in Roe into state law, saying he respects the “will” of the majority of state residents who back abortion rights.

“When we woke up the day after the Dobbs decision, the law in New York was exactly the same as it was the day before, nothing changed,” Zeldin said. “And I’m not going to change it.”

Zeldin has even launched another TV ad where he counters the governor’s claim.

And he said he voted against certifying the 2020 election not to support Trump, but because he differed with the voting procedures in some of the states.

Hochul does support the three-year-old bail reform laws that ended most forms of cash bail. But in April, she convinced the State Legislature to modify the law and allow more crimes to become eligible for bail. The changes also gave judges more discretion on whether to hold defendants before trial.

But the governor said the bigger cause for the increased crime is societal disruption and disconnection due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said for a time, social services, mental health treatment and drug addiction programs were shuttered.

“Nationwide, there has been phenomenon that we all recognize, and crime has gone up, and the pandemic was truly at the center of that phenomenon,” Hochul said during a Sept. 28 speech at a conference put on by the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Recent polls show the race is tightening.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.