A Thursday night debate gives two longshot Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls a final chance to trip up frontrunner Gov. Kathy Hochul on camera ahead of the June 28 primary.
“Based on public polling, endorsements, and fundraising it would take an actual miracle, rather than a Hail Mary, for the governor to lose this primary,” Democratic consultant Evan Stavisky said in a text.
The debate, hosted by NBC 4 New York/WNBC, Telemundo 47/WNJU and the Times Union, will begin at 7 p.m.
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New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Nassau) remain unknown to majorities of voters, despite months of attacks against Hochul, according to a new Siena College poll.
Williams came within single digits of beating Hochul in the 2018 Democratic primary for LG, but has struggled in the current campaign despite getting support from the influential Working Families Party once again.
“Williams and his handlers have a lot to explain. His standing – based upon his present poll [numbers] – as a left wing hope is severely damaged,” political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told the Post.
That could begin changing if one or both of them have a viral moment or push Hochul to commit a gaffe that somehow makes her lose standing with voters before early voting begins Saturday.
Neither the lefty Williams nor relatively centrist Suozzi had any big standout moments at the first debate between the three candidates, despite criticizing Hochul on issues as diverse as climate change and the ongoing surge in violent crime.
“Suozzi, young enough to have a future, should continue hitting on crime. It’s all he’s got,” Sheinkopf added.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face the Republican nominee – widely expected to be Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk) as the GOP pushes to win its first statewide election in two decades.
Hochul has led every poll in the race by double digits, secured the backing of big name Democrats like New York City Mayor Eric Adams while building an eight-figure war chest to fund ads across television and social media.
Endorsements from big unions like 32BJ and DC37 could play a big role in helping Hochul mobilize voters in a primary where turnout will likely hover around 20% of registered Democrats, based on past elections.
Experts note how Hochul, who became governor following the resignation of disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo last August, has also wielded the powers of incumbency to her advantage in ways big and small.
She is campaigning on abortion rights and gun control after pushing legislative packages on both topics in the final days of the legislative session.
Her name has also appeared on letters accompanying tax rebate checks sent to voters in recent weeks following vows to make Albany a more ethical place.
That followed a radio blitz by the New York Power Authority highlighting her supposed environmental accomplishments while the state Democratic Party has sent literature to voters on her behalf.
Avoiding gaffes though is essential in the homestretch, especially in a televised debate that will lead to innumerable hot takes on social media.
“She’s a pretty disciplined politician … she’s going to punch and parry the way she needs to and I imagine play the matador in this debate and just ensure that nothing sticks,” political consultant Neal Kwatra said Thursday.