After two weeks of tightening polls in the race for governor of New York, a survey released Friday showed a one point lead for Republican challenger Lee Zeldin in his race against incumbent Kathy Hochul. This is a political bombshell in the making, and one would have expected some kind of major pivot or shakeup from the Democrats. But thus far, at least on the issues that matter most, Hochul’s tank has been empty, despite a weak effort on Saturday to address rising crime in the subway.
This past week, Hochul was on Long Island, not...

After two weeks of tightening polls in the race for governor of New York, a survey released Friday showed a one point lead for Republican challenger Lee Zeldin in his race against incumbent Kathy Hochul. This is a political bombshell in the making, and one would have expected some kind of major pivot or shakeup from the Democrats. But thus far, at least on the issues that matter most, Hochul’s tank has been empty, despite a weak effort on Saturday to address rising crime in the subway.

This past week, Hochul was on Long Island, not far from Zeldin’s home, to talk about a state initiative to fix potholes. Yes, potholes. Nobody likes poorly paved streets but this almost feels like parody, especially given the rise in violent crime on Long Island made plain by recent gunshots outside Zeldin’s own house.

The absurd focus on road repair is telling, not just in regard to Hochul, but to Democrats across the country struggling to find something — anything — to run on. In the late summer, there were hopes, and some evidence, that abortion could be the ticket, but the further we get from the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the more that issue slips into the background — not unlike what happens with gun control after a mass shooting. The abortion issue has lost its luster.

Then there was alleged Republican Ultra MAGA extremism. Who can forget Joe Biden’s fiery Dark Brandon speech in Philadelphia? The pitch to voters was that the GOP is so dangerous, such a threat to democracy, that no matter how badly you think other things have gotten, this trumps all, so to speak. This approach may have bought Biden a blip of a bump in the polls, but it has not helped in nationwide races.

It’s also a difficult argument for Hochul to make, since one glimpse of Lee Zeldin’s track record shows he is not an extremist. He voted against certifying the 2020 election, as did many Republicans in Congress, but has not been a virulent election denier. And even those candidates who have aggressively challenged Biden’s victory, such as Kari Lake in Arizona, are also climbing in the polls. A recent poll found that 70 percent of Americans think democracy is under threat, but they are almost evenly divided on which party represents that threat. So this is not a slam dunk for the Democrats.

On Saturday, Hochul finally came out with a plan to fight crime on the subway. Along with New York City mayor Eric Adams, she announced the “Cops, Cameras and Care” initiative. To be clear, Hochul has been governor of New York for well over a year, and in that time subway crime has been atop the list of concerns regularly expressed by New Yorkers, but she refused to act. To anyone even vaguely paying attention, it is absolutely clear that what is motivating Hochul is not a desire to fight crime — she could have already been doing that — but the very real prospect that she is going to lose.

Zeldin, of course, had a field day with the announcement, quipping, “Why is Kathy Hochul waiting until the day after the first poll that says we’re in the lead — and two and a half weeks before the election — before she’s doing this?” The reason the point is so poignant is that Hochul has very obviously downplayed the crime issue for months now. She still supports bail reform that lets criminals roam the streets, as well as the ultra-liberal and soft-on-crime Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, whom Zeldin has promised to fire on day one.

But this sudden semi-shift in approach from the Empire State’s unelected governor (having taken over for a disgraced Andrew Cuomo in 2021) may be the clearest sign yet that Hochul’s campaign knows it is in deep trouble. Any time a candidate seems to be trying to adopt the issue that their opponent has staked out for months, you know there is serious trouble behind the scenes.

Two weeks out, sources in the Zeldin camp are ecstatic. It’s not that they think they have a chance anymore; it’s that they expect to win. Hochul and the Democrats have no platform and no planks, and at this point it is far from clear that they have any viable options left.