New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is running the Empire State because scandals sank Andrew Cuomo, but she is on pace to win a full term on her own merits with record fundraising, high approval ratings and sizable polling leads scaring off big-name challengers.
Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that he won’t challenge his fellow Democrat, one month after New York Attorney General Letitia James dropped out of the gubernatorial primary race. That leaves a New York City official and a congressman as the most prominent names trying to catch the sitting governor before voters have their say in the June 28 primary.
A Siena College poll released Tuesday said Mrs. Hochul had the support of 46% of Democrats, compared with 12% for Mr. de Blasio, 11% for New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and 6% for Rep. Thomas Suozzi, with 24% unsure or naming another candidate.
“James is out of the race. Williams and Suozzi are unknown to half of Democrats,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said shortly before Mr. de Blasio declined to run. “With 22 weeks until the primary, it appears Hochul is in the catbird seat to be the Democratic nominee for governor.”
Mr. de Blasio, a far-left Democrat who stoked talk of a gubernatorial campaign with a sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate during his final days in office, announced his decision not to run in a video message Tuesday.
“I am not going to be running for governor of New York state, but I am going to devote every fiber of my being to fighting inequality in the state of New York,” Mr. de Blasio said.
The former mayor said he would share “more news with you in the days ahead.”
Mrs. Hochul, a 63-year-old Buffalo native, rose from lieutenant governor to the top job in August after Mr. Cuomo resigned because of a wave of sexual harassment accusations. She has since had solid approval ratings, including 60% in the Siena poll.
Her handling of COVID-19 has been generally positive, she is generating buzz as the first female governor of New York, her upstate roots appeal to residents outside of New York City, and she has managed to strike a centrist stance while nodding to liberals on some topics, including climate change, said Grant Reeher, a politics professor at Syracuse University.
“There are detractors on both sides, but on the whole, I think she’s been perceived as steady, thoughtful and proactive,” he told The Washington Times. “She seems more focused on the job, less on herself. That’s a refreshing change in New York state politics.”
Mrs. Hochul’s most significant advantage might be that she is not Mr. Cuomo.
“She hasn’t been trying to pick fights with people too much,” said Shawn Donahue, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Buffalo. “It seemed like Gov. Cuomo made a lot of things personal. He had the big feud with de Blasio for basically the entire de Blasio administration.”
Mrs. Hochul struck a cooperative tone with newly inaugurated New York Mayor Eric Adams, and she is well-known to local officials from her travels as lieutenant governor when Mr. Cuomo was in charge.
She is also flush with cash. Her campaign on Tuesday reported having more than $21 million to spend, besting the field. Mr. Suozzi said he raised $3 million and transferred $2 million from his congressional account.
The governor used her State of the State address this month to promise to usher in a “new era for New York” as she battles the surge of the omicron variant of the coronavirus and tries to tackle crime and income inequality, among other issues.
“As the first woman to present a State of the State address in New York, I want to make it clear I am not just here to make history; I am here to make a difference,” she said in the Jan. 5 speech.
Analysts said the main threats to Mrs. Hochul’s honeymoon with New Yorkers will be the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, balancing liberal and centrist budget wish lists and navigating a thorny debate about bail reforms that have been blamed for surging crime.
Five months before the primary, Mr. Suozzi said the governor is too green to lead New York, home to about 20 million people.
“New York needs a common-sense governor who has executive experience to manage COVID, take on crime, reduce taxes and help troubled schools,” Mr. Suozzi said after Mrs. Hochul’s State of the State address.
Mr. Williams is trying to energize liberals and take on Mrs. Hochul from the left. He said it is time to “bring transformational change to Albany.”
Ms. James dropped out of the race in early December. She said she must focus on pending investigations, including a probe into former President Donald Trump’s business practices. She played a major role in investigations that ousted Mr. Cuomo, leading many to believe she would have been a formidable gubernatorial contender.
“I think the big one was when James dropped out,” Mr. Donahue said. “Letitia James had the ability to pick voters off from the left, she had a big base in New York City. She also had a lot of establishment support.”
Several Republicans are vying to take on the eventual Democratic nominee. They include Rep. Lee Zeldin, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and former Trump administration official Andrew Giuliani, a son of former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Foreshadowing a possible attack line, the New York Republican Party called Mrs. Hochul a protege of Mr. Cuomo after she reported her record fundraising haul.
“The only way Kathy Hochul could have raised $21.9 million is by selling state government out her back door. It’s clear she perfected the corrupt art of pay-to-play politics using every trick she learned from her mentor Andrew Cuomo,” state Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy said before highlighting reports that Mrs. Hochul may have used state aircraft for travel that included campaign-related events.
Analysts said the lack of big-name liberal challengers in the primary should help Mrs. Hochul weather a fall contest against Republicans. Republicans are looking for a big year nationally in midterm contests but have struggled of late to win statewide office in New York.
“One of the things that will benefit Gov. Hochul in the fall is if she’s not dragged so far to the left,” Mr. Donahue said. “I think she’s probably the overwhelming favorite in a general election.”