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Politics

Poll shows Hochul ahead in volatile race for governor

Gov. Kathy Hochul, wearing a red dress, standing at a podium with the state seal on it and flags behind her
Office of the Governor
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A new Siena College poll finds that Gov. Kathy Hochul, who’s been in her job for less than four months, holds a double-digit lead over her opponents in next year’s Democratic primary. But the data shows a volatile race in the aftermath of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid a sexual harassment scandal.

The poll finds that 36% of registered Democrats back Hochul, who is seeking election to the job she ascended to after Cuomo resigned in disgrace in August. That’s twice as many potential voters as those who support state Attorney General Letitia James, who has the backing of 18% of Democrats.

Ten percent support New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio each have 6%. All but de Blasio have formally declared their candidacies.

Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg said with just over six months before primary election day, much about the race is uncertain. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed say they don’t know who they will support for governor, and 30% say they don’t know enough to form an opinion of Hochul, who in her six years as the state’s lieutenant governor was not a household name.

“At this point, the candidates still aren't well enough known to say that the voters’ minds are locked in,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg added that even though Hochul has a 2-to-1 advantage over James in the early poll, they have similar favorable ratings among voters, with Hochul at 57% and James at 56%.

The top two issues that voters are most concerned about are fighting crime and creating more economic opportunities. Managing the COVID-19 pandemic was third on the list of top concerns. But the survey was conducted just as the spread of the omicron variant was becoming known.

If there’s another wave of the virus that intensifies over the winter, that issue could come to dominate voters’ views of Hochul, as pandemic management did for her predecessor, Cuomo.

Greenberg said there are a number of issues that are keeping New Yorkers unsettled, and he said any of them could be a factor in the race.

“The economy, education and classes and schools staying open, everything around omicron and then the next thing regarding the pandemic that’s going to come out,” Greenberg said. “There’s so many different issues and so many different things that are going to happen over the course of these next 28 weeks that the dynamic is likely to shift multiple times.”

Hochul’s opponents perceive her management of the pandemic as a potential weakness, and some have criticized her decision to allow local governments to make decisions about vaccine or mask mandates instead of implementing a statewide policy like Cuomo did.

James has repeatedly called for a statewide mask mandate and greater involvement in vaccine-hesitant communities. Suozzi supports the return of color-coded zones with varying degrees of restrictions as a way to manage and contain the virus.

Hochul defends her approach, saying the spread of the virus varies greatly in different regions, so statewide restrictions might do more harm than good. She has said vaccines and booster shots are so far working against all variants of the virus, so it makes more sense to encourage holdouts to get their shots instead.

“I will not overreact and send this economy spiraling out of control once again,” Hochul said on Dec. 2.

But the governor said she’s not ruling out imposing statewide restrictions if the spread of the virus continues to worsen.

The next significant date for the candidates’ preparation for the primaries is Jan. 15. By law, that’s when they have to report how much money their campaigns have raised. So far, Hochul is ahead; her campaign said she’s raised over $10 million.