ALBANY - Gov. Kathy Hochul is trying to make history as the first female governor elected in the state of New York, but first she'll have to ward off a pair of primary challengers Tuesday to even have a chance.
Hochul, a Democrat from Buffalo, who had been New York's No. 2 official, rose to power in August after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned under the weight of multiple sexual harassment allegations and scandals surrounding his once-lauded response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her elevation to the state's top office made her the first woman to serve in the role, but still, no woman has ever been elected to the position.
Now, Hochul is running for a full, four-year term as an incumbent with just 10 months in office under her belt. And her first electoral test comes Tuesday when Rep. Tom Suozzi – running to her right – and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Wiliams – running to her left – will try to wrest the Democratic gubernatorial nomination from her.
"We are going to win the battle of the hearts and minds," Hochul said at a June 15 rally of her labor-union supporters. "We are working tirelessly with all of you to give people the reason to come back, and to not just survive but thrive."
Hochul has positioned herself as the frontrunner in the three-way primary field, in part through a relentless campaign fundraising strategy that saw her amass more than $30 million — far outpacing any of her opponents.
The governor's campaign has blanketed the state's airwaves touting her record during her short time in office, which includes a gas-tax reduction through the end of the year and a series of gun-control and abortion-access measures she signed into law just this month.
On Saturday, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to an abortion, Hochul tweeted from her official account, "My message to anyone who needs abortion care: New York will be your safe harbor."
But Hochul's tenure has not been without controversy. She selected then-state Sen. Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat, to replace her as lieutenant governor despite questions over his past campaign-fundraising tactics. Within six months, Benjamin was arrested on federal bribery charges and resigned.
Hochul's opponents have faulted her for spearheading a deal to build a new $1.4 billion football stadium for the Buffalo Bills, which came with $850 million in direct public subsidies. And they've latched on to her past positions on gun issues, which earned her an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association when she represented a conservative-leaning district in Congress a decade ago.
"She was a member of the United States Congress, voted with the NRA, was endorsed by the NRA and took money from the NRA," Suozzi, a Long Island congressman, said during a June 16 debate. "The governor changes her positions based upon the office she's running upon."
Hochul has said her views have changed on the issue of gun control, and she successfully led the effort to boost the minimum age for purchasing a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 in New York after an 18-year-old killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket last month.
"Judge me by what I've done," she said. "Because a lot of people have evolved since I took that position. You know what we need? More people to evolve."
Williams, the No. 2 official in New York City, is the candidate favored by progressives, including the Working Families Party, the influential third party with a habit of backing insurgent, left-leaning candidates. This is his second race against Hochul; he came within seven percentage points of defeating her in the 2018 lieutenant governor primary.
He has criticized the governor for not doing more to focus on street-level crime in Harlem, the Bronx and other areas susceptible to gun violence.
"Gun violence cannot be solved by state legislation alone," Williams said during the debate. "People who are new to this they always try to deal with the mass shootings because the handgun violence is harder to deal with."
The winner of the Democratic primary will face the candidate that emerges from a contentious, four-way Republican primary Tuesday between Rep. Lee Zeldin, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, businessman Harry Wilson and Andrew Giuliani, a former Trump administration aide who is son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Zeldin, of Long Island, has the backing of Republican Party leaders across the state, who voted earlier this year to make him their designated candidate — a distinction that gave him an automatic spot on the primary ballot without petitioning.
Giuliani is making his first run for elected office and has made his unabashed support of Donald Trump a central part of his campaign. During a debate earlier this month, Giuliani repeated the discredited, incorrect claim that Trump rightfully won the 2020 election, going as far as claiming a "crime" had been perpetrated on the American people.
But Trump has not formally endorsed any candidate in the Republican race. Along with Giuliani, Trump counts Astorino and Zeldin — both of whom have been staunch defenders of Trump on cable news programs — as allies.
New York has more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans, with independent voters also outpacing the GOP. The state hasn't elected a Republican to statewide office since George Pataki won his third term as governor in 2002.
It is a closed-primary state, meaning only enrolled members of a party can vote in their respective primary.