Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is running for governor...

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is running for governor of New York, has been hosting a series of "telephone town halls" with voters throughout the state since December. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The callers come in a steady stream. Danny from Garden City is concerned about crime and says he hasn’t voted for a Democrat in eight years.

Loyda, from Brooklyn, asks why high schools don’t offer shop classes any more. Mary, from Woodside, wonders why she’s still paying taxes at her age. Louis, from the Bronx, wants to know if the candidate will “sell out to the far left” like former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The gubernatorial candidate on the other end of the line, Rep. Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove, repeats his mantra on his campaign issues: Crime and taxes, his deep leadership experience and did I mention New York Mayor Eric Adams wanted me to be his deputy?

But he also strives to be chatty and personal: “You’re a nurse? My mother was a nurse!” “I have a friend from Jamaica. He went to Immaculate Conception.” “How ya’ doin’ Jean? My brother-in-law lives up there in Mount Vernon, too.”

And so it goes on a typical “telephone town hall” that Suozzi, a Democrat, has hosted more than a dozen times since December.

While trailing Gov. Kathy Hochul in public opinion polls and campaign cash, team Suozzi has pursued this approach as a way to speak directly to Democrats who might vote in the June 28 primary. His team says it's hosted more than 100,000 callers, with a single-night high of more than 13,000. On Tuesday, callers numbered more than 6,500, according to Suozzi.

His team is looking for a breakthrough.

With the vote two months away, the team needs a way to soften Hochul’s lead and move past New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the other Democrat in the race — even while analysts say success with these formats is a long shot.

But when you’re trailing, as one analyst said, you might as well swing for the fences.

“I would tend to say it’s not that effective,” said Lisa Parshall, a political scientist at Daemen University in suburban Buffalo. “There’s a certain amount of logic to it, trying to peel off [Hochul’s] support. It’s a ground-level approach, but it’s hard to see how it translates to enough.”

Suozzi is a three-term congressman, who is forgoing reelection to try — again — for the office he’s always wanted. He ran for governor in 2006 and was overwhelmed by the Democrat most of the party leaders favored, Eliot Spitzer.

He’s running uphill again — the latest Siena College poll put Hochul about 30 percentage points ahead of Williams and Suozzi.

That deficit is part of why Suozzi was the first Democrat out with television ads and why he’s trying to build support through the call-in events — all a part of trying to close the gap.

“He’s the only one talking straight to the voters,” Kim Devlin, a Suozzi campaign aide, said. It also costs less than trying to constantly travel the state.

The Suozzi team says it is encouraged by the tens of thousands of people who have dialed in since December. The campaign “robocalls” thousands of enrolled Democrats in the target area in the days leading up to the event — Staten Island, Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, for example. Suozzi generally follows with a visit to a diner or grocery in the area a few days later. They've done "town halls" on Long Island and in each city borough.

Once contacted, voters are asked to press a certain number if they’d like to participate and, if so, they get a call back right before the event begins.

Additionally, these are what campaigns call “prime voters” — active voters with a record of almost never missing an election.

The campaign stresses it never screens questions. But the callers do seem to ask questions right in Suozzi’s wheelhouse. Which leads to his stump speech themes:

“Democrats care about crime. Democrats care about taxes. Democrats care about schools … I’m the only Democrat talking about it.” (Hochul says she has tightened up bail and gun laws and notes this year's state budget accelerated a middle-class tax cut.) 

“We need to have vocational schools, so people can learn to be a plumber, a carpenter.”

“I’m all for the [Buffalo] Bills, but this was the biggest taxpayers’ giveaway to the NFL in history.” (A reference to Hochul’s deal with the team for a new stadium. She says $418 million — or about half the state's burden — will be covered by a recent casino settlement with the Seneca Nation.)

And, in a question about the Republican front-runner, Rep. Lee Zeldin: “I’m the best person to beat Lee Zeldin. He can’t win on Long Island and he can’t beat me on crime and taxes. Kathy Hochul could lose to him because she’s not talking about crime and taxes.”

But the repetition of questions underscores the limitations of the format for wooing voters, experts say: By and large, you’re getting voters already committed to you or leaning. It’s not often the undecided.

“You’re getting the people who are on your side or who want to hear you,” said Michael Dawidziak, a Long Island campaign strategist who works mostly with Republicans.

“In essence, what you are trying to do is catch lightning in a bottle — that everyone on that call will post stuff online and get people involved,” Dawidziak said. “You are going for donors. Have I seen it move donors? Yes. Move undecided voters? No. It can work, but in my experience, it’s limited. Now, in Suozzi’s case, he might be swinging for the fences.”

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