While recent Republican campaigns for statewide office in New York have tended to quietly stumble toward the finish line, Zeldin surrounded his closing message with fanfare before Tuesday’s election against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul — who was at the same time in Manhattan holding a get-out-the-vote rally with Vice President Kamala Harris and former Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Before being joined by North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik and a long list of local Republican officeholders and seekers, Zeldin arrived via helicopter — a move last utilized at a political rally in the area in 2014 by a then-long-rumored gubernatorial candidate named Donald Trump, who chose instead to run for president less than two years later.
And like Trump, Zeldin took the size of the crowd as a sign of his momentum.
“You can pack every single Kathy Hochul rally with every headliner … every single one of them can be packed into tonight’s rally,” Zeldin said. “And we’ve now seen that for several days in a row. So great energy out there, people are so ready to fire Kathy Hochul. People are energized to restore balance to Albany.”
Whether or not the attendance at a rally translates into victory in a race in which about 5 million people will vote, it was indisputably a well-attended event. Signs for Zeldin and Stefanik appeared every five feet on the roads for a full mile leading to the golf course, and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper at points.
Polls have shown Zeldin behind Hochul by between 4 points and 11 points as he hammers on crime and the state’s high cost of living as key planks of his campaign. Hochul’s women rally on Thursday focused on preserving abortion rights, which she said would be threatened if Zeldin is elected — though he has vowed not to change them, while Hochul says he’s not to be believed.
Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin estimated it was the largest attendance for a rally for a state-level Republican in the area since former state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno last ran 16 years ago.
“It’s enough is enough,” McLaughlin, a former state assemblymember, said. “Finally, this is people’s first big chance to stand up and push back.”
Recent polls have universally concluded that at best, Hochul is on track for one of the lowest margins of victory by a New York Democrat in 20 years.
Zeldin compared the trend to those in the gubernatorial election 28 years ago, when Republican state Sen. George Pataki stunned Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994.
Pataki “is seeing flashbacks,” Zeldin said. “The last six public polls that last week (for Pataki), four of the six had him down by double digits … By all accounts, no ones’ estimating this is going to be a double-digit loss.”
The course of the race has involved Zeldin “creeping up to what has been a dead heat,” he said. “And the goal is you peak at Election Day, and that’s what we plan on doing.”
“With all apologies to Prince,” Zeldin said, “I think New York is ready to party like it’s 1994.”