Do New York Democrats really have to worry about Governor Kathy Hochul losing to Donald Trump-hugging, election-denying sad-eyed Long Island GOP Representative Lee Zeldin? I really can’t believe that. But I couldn’t believe Trump would beat one of the stars of Hochul’s Thursday rally at Barnard College, our first female senator and first female presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, back in 2016.
So what do I know? I got myself to the rally to see the energy—and the anxiety.
Vice President Kamala Harris was added to the agenda a couple of days after Clinton, and it was an exciting day to see her: Politico had just published its first-ever kinda-sorta-favorable piece about Harris. Its author, Christopher Cadelago, has built his career on Harris takedowns going back to 2019, when her 2020 presidential run imploded. What Cadelago’s piece mostly told me is that Harris and her closest advisers have finally found a loyal, competent staff that doesn’t leak every gasp to Cadelago and others. But I digress.
So yes, I hurried up to Barnard—just a mile away, to be honest—to see who would assemble. I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I felt less worried about a Hochul loss than I was about event security. Ever since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was sent to the ICU by a hammer-wielding maniac bent on kidnapping and torturing the Democratic leader, I have wondered: Are Democrats adequately protected? Especially female Democrats?
All week long, as I watched Republican leaders line up to either joke about Paul Pelosi’s devastating injuries or minimize them, I couldn’t help but think: It’s going to get worse, just as the FBI has been warning us—and maybe before the midterms.
I wasn’t alone in my concerns about security: I got up there in time for a two-and-a-half-hour clearing of the hall, so it could be made secure for the vice president and Clinton and all of us. I went home, walked my dog, and came back. As the rally began, I saw a friendly crowd, full of Hochul supporters from major New York unions and grassroots groups who will move turnout in these next five days. Not the undecided. I did want to meet the undecided, but I realized I’d chosen the wrong place. I’ll head to Staten Island tomorrow.
Standing outside, I spoke to supporters. “I believe in what she does—I have a daughter,” said Richard Figueroa, a member of the Hotel Trades Council waiting to go in. “I believe in her too,” said his colleague Donnell Lawson. “I’m worried about abortion and gun control. And when I listen to Zeldin, I don’t believe he cares about women’s rights.”
Fair enough; he does not.
The vice president was delayed, but Clinton spoke. She warned that Zeldin and national Republicans “want to turn back the clock on abortion. They spent 50 years trying to make that happen. But they want to turn back the clock on women’s rights in general.”
Hochul took the stage to talk about Vice President Harris as the VP, delayed, was getting closer. “Let me tell you about our VP…. she came to Buffalo,” Hochul’s hometown, after the horrific shooting at the Tops Friendly Market in May. “The shooter went to Buffalo because he wanted the highest concentration of people of color. It was 10 minutes from where I live. The vice president was called up to speak and she gave the most uplifting remarks.” Hochul’s biggest applause came when she talked about abortion, as she mocked Zeldin’s claim that nothing changed in New York after Roe was overturned. “You know why nothing changed in the state of New York? Because I’m the governor.”
Then Harris arrived, and she was, as people in other states have been telling me, on fire.
“Hey, New York, are we gonna get this done? No sleep?
“We do have five days. We don’t have a lot of time. To do something very big: to elect Kathy Hochul…”
She referenced the history she, Clinton and Hochul have made for women.
“You’ve witnessed a lot of firsts…. we are the firsts but we are committed to not being the last.”
Harris found her rhythm, which she sometimes does not, with a refrain: “Because you voted.”
“Child poverty? It was reduced by more than 40 percent in the year the Biden administration provided the tax credit.
“Because people voted…
“We just put $370 billion into the climate crisis.
“Because you voted…
“We fixed potholes and bridges and roads…and La Guardia [airport] is gonna get $30 million in upgrades.
“And you know what? It’s about time we had a Black woman on the Supreme Court of the United States!
“Because you voted…
“Her name is Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson….”
You could say, and I could agree, that Democrats’ needing to bring two superstars like Harris and Clinton to our sapphire-blue state is not the best election news. Or you could say Democrats are just reminding voters that we have the women who make all the difference, and we can’t let the likes of Tucker Carlson or Lee Zeldin take that away from us.
One thing I would add, personally: I think this event should have been at a large outdoor venue. I know the argument for doing this kind of rallying the faithful. I just think they might have drawn a real crowd. Just south of Albany the same night, Zeldin drew thousands of supporters to a golf course. Way to stay on brand, GOP!
A coda: I happened to be in Zeldin’s Long Island district last weekend. Sat next to a guy who seemed sweet, until he started talking about how Zeldin would clean up crime. “And he’ll get rid of all the Democrats too!” Two days after the attack on Paul Pelosi, that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I moved away.
The Barnard event told me nothing about swing voters. But I think they signed up a lot of folks to work to get out the vote. At this point, that matters most.