It’s almost impossible for a pro-abortion rights candidate to win in some southern states. Is it impossible for an anti-abortion candidate to win a statewide contest in New York?
New Yorkers this fall will choose between two candidates on either side of the issue — Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is pro-abortion rights, versus Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is anti-abortion.
Zeldin and Republican allies contend voters will cast a ballot based on issues such as the economy and crime, not abortion.
But no anti-abortion candidate has won the governor’s race since New York enacted its first abortion-rights law in 1970.
The last Republican to win a statewide contest, former Gov. George Pataki, was a pro-abortion rights moderate who won three times, the last in 2002.
And last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade decision which guaranteed abortion rates makes it almost certain that the issue will be on the ballot this fall, analysts said.
“I think it’s going to matter quite a bit,” said Lisa Parshall, a political scientist with Daemen University in suburban Buffalo.
“Can an anti-choice candidate win in New York? Perhaps, yes — if we weren’t in such a heightened concern about protecting abortion rights,” Parshall said. “It is possible, but the (Roe) decision makes it really uphill.”
“I think it’s highly unlikely than an anti-choice candidate can win in New York unless he can make other issues much more important” to voters, said Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College political scientist.
Zeldin backers argue abortion won’t be a deciding issue for voters.
“The issues that are going to decide this election are going to be crime, the economy, education and taxes,” said John Faso, a former upstate Republican congressman who has experience with statewide campaigns — he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.
“I truly believe that for most people for whom the abortion issue is the predominate issue, their votes are already locked in one way or another,” Faso said. Asked if abortion was such a hot-button issue that it would be a deciding factor for many voters, he said: “I don’t think so.”
He said he based that on the argument that the Supreme Court decision “will have no impact in New York” because the state already has statutes guaranteeing abortion rights — an argument Zeldin has made on the campaign trail.
Public opinion polls reliably show a large majority of New Yorkers support abortion rights. In a survey earlier this month, 60% of voters said the Supreme Court shouldn’t overturn Roe v. Wade compared with 24% who said it should, according to Siena College.
Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo used the issue successfully in his 2010, 2014 and 2018 gubernatorial campaigns — and Roe wasn’t even really threatened then. In 2014, his launched a statewide bus tour to tout his pro-abortion rights record — above his achievements on tax cuts and same-sex marriage — and temporarily created a “Women’s Equality Party” that focused on abortion.
“Cuomo used that issue as a cudgel and women’s issues in general as a cudgel,” Muzzio said.
Faso downplayed it, saying: “That was eight years ago.” He said voters are “going to be concerned about inflation and costs at the grocery store.”
Last week, Zeldin hailed the court’s abortion decision as a “victory for life, for family, for the Constitution, and for federalism.” On the campaign trail, he’s said he liked the idea of appointing an anti-abortion state health commissioner.
On Monday, he said New York abortion statutes go farther than Roe in protecting rights and argued the issue wouldn’t dramatically help Democrats.
“Unfortunately for Kathy Hochul, [the Roe decision] is not going to have the impact that she is praying to the abortion gods above that it would have on her political fortunes,” Zeldin said, according to Politico.
But veteran political consultant Sid Davidoff said: “I think he underestimates how powerful that issue is.”
Hochul wasted no time in focusing on it: It was her first post Twitter on Wednesday morning, just hours after she won the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
“In New York, we believe that access to reproductive health care is a human right,” Hochul wrote. “And we will stop at nothing to protect that right.”