Lee Zeldin looks to become the first New York Republican governor since 2007

OSWEGO, N.Y. – Lee Zeldin has a real shot at becoming the first Republican governor of New York since Gov. George E. Pataki in 2007. However, current Gov. Kathy Hochul is focusing on abortion rights in her attempt to become the first female elected governor in New York.

New York state has not seen a Republican governor since Gov. Pataki governed for 12 years. Zeldin has primarily focused on issues such as crime and inflation, while Hochul has highlighted the current issue of abortion. As New York state typically runs blue, Zeldin is combatting a primarily democratic electorate.   

“For Republicans, that always meant figuring out how to build and appeal towards Democrats as strongly as possible,” Joshua Plencner, a political science professor at SUNY Oswego, said. “What’s been most interesting about Republicans in New York is that they have styled themselves as a kind of liberal variant.” 

Trying to appeal to the democratic New York state voters is important for Zeldin; however, establishing his party’s morals may play an important role in this year’s midterm election. 

“I think what is interesting about Zeldin’s run right now is that he is not doing that (taking a more liberal approach). And I see that as an attempt by the New York State Republican Party to reposition itself away from some of that kind of reaching-across-the-aisle legacy,” Plencner said.

Zeldin has shown his support for former United States President Donald Trump, a socially conservative republican. However, in New York state, conservative ideologies are not so popular.

“The strength of Zeldin right now seems to be the pretty strong connection with President Trump. Even though the campaign wants to distance itself from that connection, not talk about it as strongly as it did certainly when Zeldin first announced his candidacy,” Plencner said. “That’s a clear sign that the future of the Republican Party in New York state might be built around the vision of partisan politics that looks more distinct from Democrats.” 

Zeldin’s strong connection with Trump is not the only stance that has changed throughout his campaign. He has also shifted his views on abortion, which is a topic that is at the top of the list for New York voters since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. 

Hochul has repeatedly stated that abortion will remain legal and accessible in New York, while Zeldin’s stance has changed throughout his campaign. 

As abortion is one of the biggest questions on the ballot for the upcoming midterm elections, women’s groups have voiced their opinions. While for women on college campuses, the issue is prominent. 

“I think it’s more important than ever on college campuses,” Dennis Molina, the director of programming for the Women’s Center at SUNY Oswego, said. “I feel like, within college campuses, there is so much that can happen. There’s sexual assault that happens, and a lot of it does not get reported, and if it doesn’t get reported, then there are only so many ways women can go about mitigating the damage that comes from that.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women in their 20s accounted for 56.9% of abortions in the United States in 2019.

“People make mistakes, and people get pregnant unexpectedly. I feel like, more than ever now, there is a need for reproductive health care because it provides that extra level of security for women who already have to go through so much on a college campus. Anything can happen,” Molina said. “We could go into a multitude of reasons as to why reproductive health care is necessary, especially within college campuses. It just adds that extra layer of protection for women in a male-dominated system.”

Lee Zeldin has a history of being pro-life without any exceptions for rape, incest, or the overall well-being of the mother. However, throughout his campaign, he has made it clear that he will not mess with New York state’s abortion laws. 

“For Zeldin, it seemed to be moving away from a harder line that he was once quite comfortable with as a strong critic of abortion access and advocating limitation of abortion rights New York state but also generally,” Plencner said. “Now that he is really on the hook for that older message, I think he is trying to reposition his candidacy to something that is a little bit softer on the message.” 

A softer message may not be what the Democratic voters want to hear. “When you become softer on the message, you also get murkier and harder to read as a candidate. So because it’s murkier, I don’t know if that’s a message that is going to directly appeal to more liberal voters,” Plencner said. 

In New York, the polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov 8.