ALBANY — Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican nominee for governor Lee Zeldin have called in some big names late in the campaign.
They include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for Zeldin and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Kamala Harris for Hochul, as both candidates seek to energize their bases and build momentum in these final days of the campaign.
Rallies with big names “is important to excite the base, to ensure that everyone’s voters actually get to the polls,” said political scientist and author Lara M. Brown of Washington, D.C.
“You always want to end a campaign on a high note,” she said. “It’s important to finish strong and that means not only having your supporters be enthusiastic, but also to have a sense that the election is starting to go your way. That’s important because there are independent voters who don’t make their decision until a few days before Election Day. It’s not unusual for voters then to want to vote with the winner, or perceived winner. It’s the bandwagon effect.”
On Saturday, Zeldin led a rally with DeSantis and on Monday was in Mount Pleasant with Youngkin, who scored an upset last year by beating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“If Lee Zeldin gets into office, New York will be a law-and-order state,” DeSantis said to a cheering crowd in Hauppauge. Of criminals, DeSantis said, “Lee Zeldin will not coddle these people. He will hold them accountable and you will be safer!”
Youngkin said Zeldin can win an underdog campaign, too, as Zeldin hammers issues such as crime and inflation. “They said a Republican couldn’t win in New York, and that’s exactly what they said in Virginia last year,” Younkin said at the Westchester County rally.
Meanwhile, Clinton and Harris campaigned in Manhattan Thursday for Hochul and other New York Democrats at a Women’s Rally at Barnard College. Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to campaign for Hochul at a stop this weekend.
Saying Republicans have voted against raising the minimum wage and are threatening Medicare and Social Security, Clinton sad, "I don’t know why any sensible person who cares about the economy, who cares about the cost of living, would vote for someone who votes against them and their families. We have to hold them accountable and one of the ways of doing that is making sure Kathy Hochul remains our governor!”
Harris said the loss of the constitutional right to abortion and access to abortion in many states is the result of electing Republicans. “Elections matter, and we have so much at stake in this one,” Harris said.
The magnitude of the big names reflects a race that some polls show is within striking distance of Zeldin,a rarity for the GOP, which hasn't had won a statewide election since 2002. That's when moderate, pro-choice Gov. George Pataki faced a much closer voter enrollment deficit to Democrats. As of Tuesday, the state has 6 million enrolled Democrats, 2.69 million Republicans, 153,142 Conservatives and 2.8 million voters who chose not to enroll in a major or minor party.
President Biden traveled to New York twice last month on official visits that included bolstering Democratic candidates for Congress and Hochul.
These party celebrities “can affect the margins,” said Doug Muzzio, a political scientist from Baruch College. “And in a close election — like the 2022 New York gubernatorial — the margins.”
A rousing rally with a political powerhouse can also recharge campaign workers at a critical time “and influence media coverage, which may be the most important variable,” Muzzio said.
But choosing a headliner isn’t simple. For example, former President Donald Trump — a polarizing figure in New York — gave his “complete and total endorsement” to Zeldin on Oct. 19, but Zeldin sought to downplay the endorsement as not newsworthy to reporters. Instead of Trump, Zeldin was visited by DeSantis, who is in the Trump mold to energize conservative voters, but not Trump so as to avoid turning off independents and disaffected Democrats in the blue state.
Similarly, polls show support for Biden. An Oct. 19 Siena Research Institute poll found that 53% of voters had a favorable opinion of him and 45% had an unfavorable view. But among independents and members of minor parties, 49% approved of the job Biden was doing, compared with 44% who had an unfavorable view of him.
Clinton, the former U.S. senator from New York, first lady and 2016 Democratic nominee for president, remains a historic and popular figure for Democrats and supporters of women in politics. Hochul’s platform includes protecting women’s rights to abortion and against sexual harassment and discrimination. Clinton could prod Democrats to go to the polls as well as sway Democratic-leaning independents, political scientists said.
For Republicans, Brown said, the calculation may be more complex. She said the growth in independent voters is the largely the result of Republicans leaving because of Trump’s influence on the party, so Zeldin needed to appeal to Trump voters without potentially turning off independents by standing beside Trump.
“The division in the electorate is actually between the Trump path and the future Republican Party, even if the future Republican Party looks somewhat Trumpist, like DeSantis or Youngkin,” Brown said.
Michael Balboni, a longtime political adviser who has worked for Republicans and Democrats and is a former GOP state senator from Nassau County, attended Zeldin’s rally with DeSantis.
“We haven’t had those kind of numbers for a rally for either party in decades,” Balboni said. “What it does is it gives you star power, so the media pays attention, which means donors pay attention.”