Rep. Lee Zeldin conceded the New York governor’s race to incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday, ending a 19-month campaign that saw him lose by less than 6 percentage points in the deep blue state.
Zeldin, a Republican congressman from Long Island, had declined to throw in the towel late Tuesday as results showed him trailing Hochul by what appeared to be an insurmountable margin. At the time, no votes had been tabulated in his home of Suffolk County, where technical difficulties delayed the count.
But by Wednesday morning, it was clear Zeldin’s large margin of victory on Long Island wasn’t enough to overcome Hochul’s statewide margin. As of early Wednesday afternoon, he was trailing by more than 290,000 votes statewide, with just a small portion of absentee and affidavit ballots left to be counted.
"I would like to congratulate New York Governor Kathy Hochul on her election to a full four-year term," Zeldin wrote in a statement that was shared on Twitter. "This race was a once-in-a-generation campaign, with a very close margin in the bluest of blue states."
He added, “Those controlling Albany should take note. New Yorkers of all walks of life are sick of the attacks on their wallets, their safety, their freedoms, and the quality of their kids’ education and are hitting their breaking point, as proven by these results.”
On the campaign trail, Zeldin faced repeated questions about whether he would concede the race if election night results showed Hochul winning. Zeldin was a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump and objected to certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
During their lone debate, Zeldin said he would concede under that scenario — but also declined to acknowledge the possibility that he could lose.
“Well, first off, losing is not an option,” he told moderator Susan Arbetter. “Secondly, playing along with your hypothetical question, of course.”
Hochul’s victory came on the strength of a 650,000-vote margin of victory in New York City, as well as significant wins in Westchester County and Erie County, where she lives in the city of Buffalo.
Zeldin’s supporters had set a goal of reaching at least 30% of the vote in the five boroughs, a share he just barely reached Tuesday night. Coupled with big wins in the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk, this allowed Zeldin to run the most competitive race for governor by a Republican in New York since Gov. George Pataki won a third term in 2002 — but it wasn’t enough to defeat Hochul, who won a full, four-year term and became the first woman ever elected governor of New York state.
Hochul’s campaign focused largely on her support for abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade precedent. She also used her huge campaign war chest — she raised more than $48 million since taking office — to air advertisements highlighting Zeldin’s extensive ties to Trump.
Zeldin, 42, focused his campaign almost exclusively on rising crime rates and his vow to repeal the state’s recent criminal justice reform, including a 2019 law prohibiting judges from setting cash bail in most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases.
The Republican candidate was boosted with major spending by two outside super PACs, which aired ubiquitous ads knocking Hochul’s record on crime. That effort was funded in part by more than $10 million from billionaire and conservative megadonor Ronald Lauder, who is an heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune.