NY Gov. Hochul leans hard into role as Biden surrogate

Plenty of New Yorkers have their doubts about President Joe Biden, polls show. But Gov. Kathy Hochul isn’t among them.

The Democratic governor attended Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday in Washington, D.C., and lauded his “vision for our future.” Days earlier, on Super Tuesday, she touted his electoral prospects on CNN. And for weeks, she’s been jabbing at former president Donald Trump and House Republicans for tanking a bipartisan deal on border security — echoing a key Biden talking point.

It’s something of a new role for Hochul, who is now leaning heavily into national politics and her position as the de facto head of New York’s Democratic Party. She appears intent to prove herself as a loyal Biden supporter and reliable espouser of Democratic leaders’ views, particularly on immigration and abortion.

And it could be a sign of things to come: Hochul is pledging to be an active voice in the 2024 presidential and House elections, even though she’s not on the ballot herself.

“When the story gets out of [Biden’s] record of accomplishment, people are going to say ‘why did we even entertain going with Donald Trump?’” Hochul said during her CNN appearance. “Let’s stick with the competent leadership, the trusted leadership, and that’ll get us through the next four years.”

A Siena College poll last month showed Biden’s approval rating under water in New York, with 52% of voters disapproving of his job performance and 45% approving.

But the Democratic president isn’t in any serious danger of losing the deep-blue state, which has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since Ronald Reagan won in a national landslide in 1984. The Siena poll showed Biden defeating Trump by 12 points in a head-to-head matchup in New York.

To be sure, Hochul hasn’t always agreed with Biden. Her and New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ push for additional federal funds to help with tens of thousands of migrants seeking shelter in the city has yet to be granted.

But unlike Adams, Hochul has stayed largely positive when speaking publicly about the Biden administration. It has kept the governor in the rotation of Biden surrogates on cable news, especially when House Republicans declined to support a Senate-negotiated measure tightening restrictions on seeking asylum in United States.

Basil Smikle, a Columbia University lecturer who previously served as executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, said Hochul has a significant role to play as the party’s leader in New York this year.

“She’s going to be representing the state of New York in this election in a way that Democratic governors haven’t had to in a long time,” he said. “The state generally doesn’t feature very heavily in presidential politics, but it will this year because Democratic control of the House goes through New York.”

According to some political observers, Hochul’s performance as a gubernatorial candidate in 2022 contributed to Democrats ceding control of the House in the first place.

She defeated Republican Lee Zeldin by six points that year, a less-than-robust showing that trickled down the ballot and affected other races in the state. This was particularly true in the Hudson Valley and Long Island, where Hochul’s performance lagged behind that of Biden two years earlier — helping a handful of Republicans flip congressional seats.

Since then, Hochul has taken a more aggressive approach politically.

She’s repeatedly called out New York’s 10 House Republicans in recent weeks, attempting to blame them for Washington’s inaction on border security.

She’s also adopted a tough-on-crime stance, most notably by sending the National Guard into the New York City subway system to assist NYPD officers with checking riders’ bags for weapons. Hochul acknowledged the move was at least partly designed to undermine a Republican talking point and show “Democrats fight crime as well.”

Republican Rep. Mike Lawler, one of Democrats’ top targets in this year’s House elections who faces a challenge from former Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones in the Hudson Valley, said he wasn’t concerned about Hochul potentially taking an active role in his race. He said he actually would welcome it.

“The American people aren’t stupid and New Yorkers aren’t stupid,” Lawler said in an interview. “They realize who’s in charge and they realize that [the migrant influx] is a result of the disastrous policies that Joe Biden and Kathy Hochul have enacted.”

In some cases, House Republicans have tried to bait Hochul into taking them on, perhaps buoyed by her underwhelming performance in their districts in 2022. That includes Rep. Marc Molinaro, who represents a swing district in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier that stretches up to the Albany area.

After Bronx Rep. Adriano Espaillat announced Hochul would be his guest for Biden’s State of the Union speech, Molinaro issued a press release calling on the governor to meet with him in Washington and providing his office number so that the governor’s staffers could easily get in touch with his own.

“We clearly have different approaches, but the rhetoric and verbal sparring isn’t helping those in New York feeling the impact of this crisis,” he said in a statement.

Hochul has dismissed such invitations from New York Republicans as political stunts. Her campaign spokesperson, Jen Goodman, said the governor will continue to hit the campaign trail hard this year.

“From New York’s vulnerable House Republicans to the threat of a Trump presidency, Governor Hochul will continue to make the case to voters just how much is at stake in 2024,” Goodman said.

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