New York Governor’s Debate: What to watch for when Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin work out

Update! The debate will also be broadcast live on WNYC 93.9 FM, 820 AM and WNYC.org.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and her opponent Rep. Lee Zeldin will face off on Tuesday tonight in their only scheduled debate, which comes as the latest round of polls suggest the Republican challenger is rapidly closing in on the Democratic incumbent’s once formidable lead.

Hochul and Zeldin, a Republican congressman from eastern Long Island, are scheduled to debate for an hour at 7 p.m. in a debate hosted by Spectrum News on the Manhattan campus of Pace University.

The debate comes at a key time in the race, with just four days before early voting begins and exactly two weeks until Election Day.

Here’s what to know about Tuesday’s debate and its potential implications:

How can I watch or listen?

The debate begins at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Spectrum News New York stations, including NY1 in all five boroughs. It will also air on WNYC 93.9 FM, 820 AM and WNYC.org.

For those who are not Charter Spectrum or Optimum subscribers, you will need to resort to a web feed. It will be streamed for free on ny1.com or via the Spectrum News iOS and Android app, depending on the network.

Wait – that’s the only debate?

It’s correct. This has been a major point of contention for Zeldin over the past few weeks.

Zeldin — the lesser-known challenger — had called for at least five debates, including two in New York and three in other state markets. Hochul only accepted the debate on Spectrum News.

For weeks, Zeldin delayed accepting his invitation to the Spectrum event – an apparent attempt to use whatever leverage he had to convince Hochul to accept more debates. But that never happened; Hochul didn’t budge and Zeldin accepted his invitation last Sunday.

New York is super democratic. Does Zeldin really have a chance to get angry?

At the very least, the latest public polls available show Zeldin gaining traction.

Last month, a Siena College poll pegged Hochul’s lead at 17 points – 54%-37% – over Zeldin. That wasn’t a huge surprise, considering New York State has twice as many Democrats as Republicans and hasn’t elected a statewide Republican in 20 years.

Then came a flurry of polls last week that showed a much tighter race. Marist College showed Hochul with an eight-point advantage among likely voters. Siena had it at 11 points. And Quinnipiac University had Hochul by just four pointsdrawing on a sample that underestimated Democrats in a year when polls imply people are motivated to vote by crime and inflation — issues Republicans are focusing heavily on.

Overall, Hochul remains the big favourite, according to FiveThirtyEightwhose election simulator shows the incumbent governor winning in 97 out of 100 different scenarios – a slight decrease from 99 out of 100 just a week ago.

“Like in sports, momentum matters in politics,” said Siena pollster Steve Greenberg. “Zeldin closed in our poll six points in three weeks, with three more weeks to go at this point. And with a gap of 11 points, can it be closed? It certainly is. Will it be closed? You do not know. That’s why they’re campaigning, and there are still millions of dollars worth of ads to run and see.

What kind of topics can we expect to hear about in the debate?

That’s up to the co-moderators — “Inside City Hall” host Errol Louis and “Capital Tonight” host Susan Arbetter — to decide. But there are certain topics that will almost certainly be discussed at length.

One of these topics is crime. Zeldin, like many Republicans around the country, has made it the center of his entire campaign, highlighting the increase in rape, robbery and felony assault in New York City and beyond. (Murders and shootings, meanwhile, are down year over year in all five boroughs, according to NYPD data.) Zeldin also said he would declare a crime emergency, which would allow him to temporarily suspend the state’s bail laws if he were to be elected. He also pledged to use his power as governor to fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Last week’s Quinnipiac poll suggested the message could resonate with some voters, with 28% of those polled calling crime their top issue this election. This was followed by inflation, another major Zeldin talking point, at 20%.

In the days following the poll, Hochul held a pair of official events touting the actions she has taken against crime – first on Saturday when she pledged to fund more police on the subway, and then on Monday when she highlighted the number of firearms seized under the state’s recently strengthened “red flag” law.

Hochul disputed the suggestion that the latest polls have forced her to focus more on crime.

“I don’t let political theater affect what we’ve done,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not a new problem for me, and I think it’s well established.”

The Governor also repeatedly emphasized Zeldin’s anti-abortion stances, a likely topic of conversation Tuesday night in a post-Roe v. Wade. And there’s also the matter of Zeldin’s close ties to former President Donald Trump, including the congressman’s votes against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“I assure you that as I travel across the state and ask, ‘What do you have in mind? What will decide your vote for governor? At no time do I come across people who say, ‘What will decide my vote for governor is based on who the last president is,’ Zeldin told reporters earlier this month.

Will the debate change your mind?

A gubernatorial debate does not attract the kind of widespread audience of, say, a presidential debate.

But Greenberg said it will generate great media coverage and has the potential to create a viral moment (or moments) that can ricochet across the internet – things that can matter in the final weeks of a race.

“If either or both candidates make a major gaffe or make an important point, that stuff can go viral even if few people watched the debate,” he said. “And in a race like this, over the last two weeks, that could potentially have an impact. But we’ll have to wait and see.

This story has been updated to reflect that the debate will be broadcast live on WNYC 93.9 FM, 820 AM and WNYC.org.

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