Update! The debate will also air live on WNYC 93.9 FM, 820 AM and WNYC.org.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and her opponent Rep. Lee Zeldin will square off on Tuesday evening in their only scheduled debate, which comes as the latest round of polls suggest the Republican challenger rapidly closing in on the Democratic incumbent’s once-formidable lead.
Hochul and Zeldin, a Republican congressman from eastern Long Island, are scheduled to debate for an hour at 7 p.m. in a debate hosted by Spectrum News at Pace University’s Manhattan campus.
The debate comes at a key point in the race, with just four days until early voting begins and exactly two weeks until Election Day.
Here’s what to know about Tuesday’s debate and its potential implications:
How can I watch or listen?
The debate starts at 7 p.m. and will air live on Spectrum News’ New York stations, including NY1 in the five boroughs. It will also air on WNYC 93.9 FM, 820 AM and WNYC.org.
For those who aren’t Charter Spectrum or Optimum subscribers, you’ll have to resort to a web stream. It’ll be streaming for free on ny1.com or via Spectrum News’ iOS and Android app, according to the network.
Wait – this is the only debate?
That’s correct. It’s been a major point of contention for Zeldin over the past several weeks.
Zeldin — the lesser-known challenger — had called for at least five debates, with two in New York City and three in other markets in the state. Hochul agreed only to the Spectrum News debate.
For weeks, Zeldin held off on accepting his invite to the Spectrum event — an apparent attempt to use any leverage he had to convince Hochul to agree to more debates. But it never happened; Hochul didn’t budge, and Zeldin accepted his invitation this past Sunday.
New York is super Democratic. Does Zeldin really have a shot at an upset?
At the very least, the latest available public polling shows Zeldin is gaining ground.
Just last month, a Siena College poll pegged Hochul’s lead at 17 points — 54%-37% — over Zeldin. That wasn’t a huge surprise, considering New York state is home to twice as many Democrats as Republicans and hasn’t elected a Republican statewide in 20 years.
Then came a wave of polls last week that showed a much tighter race. Marist College showed Hochul with an eight-point edge among likely voters. Siena had it at 11 points. And Quinnipiac University had Hochul with just a four-point edge, relying on a sample that undercounted Democrats in a year where polls imply people are being motivated to vote by crime and inflation — issues Republicans are focusing heavily on.
All told, Hochul remains the heavy favorite, according to FiveThirtyEight, whose election simulator shows the incumbent governor winning in 97 of 100 different scenarios — a slight decrease from 99 of 100 just a week ago.
“Like in sports, momentum matters in politics,” said Siena pollster Steve Greenberg. “Zeldin closed in our poll six points in three weeks, with three weeks still to go at that point. And with an 11-point gap, is it closeable? Certainly it is. Will it be closed? You don't know. That's why they campaign, and there are still millions of dollars in advertisements still to be aired and viewed.”
What kind of topics can we expect to hear about in the debate?
That’s for the co-moderators — "Inside City Hall" host Errol Louis and "Capital Tonight" host Susan Arbetter — to decide. But there are some topics that will almost certainly be discussed at length.
One of these topics is crime. Zeldin, like many Republicans nationwide, has made it the center of his entire campaign, highlighting increases in rapes, robberies, and felony assaults in New York City and beyond. (Murders and shootings, meanwhile, are down year to year in the five boroughs, according to NYPD data.) Zeldin has also said he would declare a state of emergency on crime, which would allow him to temporarily suspend the state’s bail laws if he were to be elected. He’s also pledged to use his gubernatorial power to fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Last week’s Quinnipiac poll suggested that message may be resonating with some voters, with 28% of those polled calling crime their top issue this election. That was followed by inflation, another major Zeldin talking point, at 20%.
In the days that followed the poll, Hochul held a pair of official events touting actions she’s taken on crime — first on Saturday when she committed to funding more police officers in the subway system, and then on Monday when she highlighted the number of guns seized under the state’s recently bolstered “red flag” law.
Hochul took issue with the suggestion that the latest polls forced her to focus more on crime.
“I’m not letting the political theater out there affect what we’ve done,” she told reporters Tuesday. “This is not a new issue for me, and I think that’s well established.”
The governor has also repeatedly highlighted Zeldin’s anti-abortion positions, a likely topic of conversation Tuesday night in a post-Roe v. Wade world. And there’s also the issue of Zeldin’s close ties to former President Donald Trump, including the congressman’s votes against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“I assure you that as I travel around the state and I'm asking, ‘What’s on your mind? What's going to decide your vote for governor?’ At no point am I coming across people that say: ‘What will decide my vote for governor is based off who the last president was,’” Zeldin told reporters earlier this month.
Will the debate change any minds?
A gubernatorial debate does not garner the kind of widespread audience of, say, a presidential debate.
But Greenberg said it will generate plenty of news coverage and has the potential to create a viral moment (or moments) that can ricochet around the internet — things that can matter in the closing weeks of a race.
“If one or both candidates make a major gaffe or make a major great point, those kinds of things can go viral even though not a lot of people may have watched the debate,” he said. “And in a race like this, over the course of the final two weeks, potentially that could be impactful. But we'll have to wait and see.”
This story has been updated to reflect that the debate will air live on WNYC 93.9 FM, 820 AM and WNYC.org.