Governor Kathy Hochul, who acceded to the Governor’s Mansion just months ago, has just lost her handpicked Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin due to yet another New York political scandal. Most New Yorkers, to be sure, would not be able to pick Benjamin out of a police lineup, but his arrest yesterday could provide serious roadblocks in Ms. Hochul’s efforts to win the election in November.
In a new poll by John Zogby Strategies, commissioned by the nonpartisan political reform group Unite NY, and conducted on Sunday April 10, the incumbent Hochul still leads her potential GOP opponents by double digits, but an inside look at the polling details reveals possible trouble for her in her bid. The poll of 1,001 likely voters statewide shows Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, who received 85% of the delegates’ support at last month’s statewide Republican Committee convention, trailing the Governor by 13 points, 49%-36%, with 15% undecided.
The entire poll was taken before Benjamin’s arrest, but this is the first time in any of the Unite NY/John Zogby Strategies polls that the Governor has been polling under 50%. And 15% undecided is a very high figure in a state where the Democratic registration advantage is 45%-29%. Hochul receives 83% support of the Democrats polled, Zeldin 81% of the Republicans. Good news for both candidates. But among the one in five voters who are not registered in any of the major or minor parties, Hochul is ahead by only 35% to 31% — with 34% undecided. She is an empty slate and just at the point where she needs to spend money to define herself, she faces a huge scandal and a need to answer questions about her judgment in choosing a key team member.
Hochul may have provides a breath of fresh air after the bullying and loutish behavior of her predecessor Andrew Cuomo, but her first budget has raised a lot of eyebrows about cronyism and her commitment to powerful interest groups who she needs in her corner. She also needs to worry about her anemic showings among several key demographics.
As of this new poll, she is only outpolling Zeldin among Hispanics 46%-43%, among black voters 65%-13%, and in New York City 60%-23%. Particularly alarming is that 21% of blacks and 17% of New York City voters are presently undecided. When blacks are undecided, that could very well mean that they are not going to vote. That could be deadly for her chances.
She fares better against other GOP candidates – scoring over 50% in each and leading former Westchester County Executive and GOP gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino by 17 points; former Trump Administration official Andrew Giuliani by 19 points; and businessman Harry Wilson by 19 points.
While only 36% of the voters polled feel that the state is heading in the right direction, the Governor receives a solid 57% job approval rating.
Republicans have an opening for November, especially if the Benjamin case keeps Hochul on the defensive. They appear to be scoring points on insecurity and anxiety over crime, high taxes, and parental rights in public education. However, what they lack at the moment is unity. Even though Zeldin won the overwhelming designation of the GOP committee, he is in a tie for the nomination with Giuliani with the former New York mayor’s son Giuliani actually outpolling him 29% to 28%. Former nominee Astorino is very much in the game with 15% and Wilson, who has vowed to spend $12 billion of his own money and is omnipresent on television has moved up 11%. Seventeen percent are still undecided on who they will vote for in the June 28 GOP primary. Each candidate has his own power base: Zeldin’s support is Upstate, he and Astorino are battling it out in the suburbs of New York City, Giuliani leads handsomely in New York City, and Wilson shows some strength Upstate.
Giuliani and Zeldin are positioning themselves as Trump conservatives, Astorino as the moderate conservative, and Wilson is striking an independent tone and message as a businessman who can fix broken things. If they can all unite after the primary, the nominee can have a chance. But that may be a tall order this year.