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Hillary Clinton returns to trail for struggling Hochul, slams GOP

Clinton was critical of Rep. Lee Zeldin as well as other Republicans including Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, left, and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) embrace during a campaign event Thursday at Barnard College in New York. (Sarah Yenesel/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

NEW YORK — Vice President Harris and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton joined forces Thursday to campaign for Gov. Kathy Hochul, focusing heavily on abortion rights as they sought to boost the Democrat in an unexpectedly difficult race against her Republican challenger, Rep. Lee Zeldin.

The event marked Clinton’s first candidate-focused appearance of the midterms and underscored the rising Democratic concern over Hochul’s race. Headlined by an all-woman lineup of surrogates and hosted by Barnard College, a women’s institution, the event was geared toward energizing women to turn out for Hochul.

Clinton was critical of Zeldin as well as other Republicans, hitting Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona, for making a joke about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband being violently attacked in his home. The speakers often highlighted the issue of abortion rights.

“Don’t take it for granted, because I’ve heard my opponent say, ‘Oh, don’t worry. The day after the Dobbs decision nothing changed in the state of New York. So don’t worry,’” said Hochul, speaking of protecting abortion rights and referencing the Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade in June. “You know why nothing changed in the state of New York? Because I’m the governor.”

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While Democrats across the country have run heavily on abortion since the high court reversed the decision ending the constitutional right to the procedure, some in the party have said that the fear of losing the right to an abortion is shaping up as a less motivating factor in blue states such as New York, because of existing protections and Democratic-led state government committed to preserving it.

In interviews with The Washington Post, some students attending the event said they were concerned about how Democrats will fare in the midterms, and noted a lack of enthusiasm among their peers compared with past elections.

Mia Davidson, a Columbia University student, noted a surge of outrage among young voters after the Dobbs decision but said that energy has dropped as Election Day approaches.

“I think that enthusiasm went away and I don’t know that the Democratic Party did a ton to really keep young people engaged, but at the same time, some of that is on us, we sometimes chose not to be,” she said.

Hochul’s struggles come as Democratic congressional candidates in New York and other blue states are also struggling, forcing party leaders to devote time and resources to some races that appeared less favorable to Republicans earlier this year.

Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, echoed Hochul’s pitch in her remarks, taking Republicans to task over abortion rights and seeking to tie Zeldin to former president Donald Trump, who supports the GOP contender.

“Of course they want to turn back the clock on abortion, they spent 50 years trying to make that happen,” said Clinton, speaking of Republicans. “But they want to turn back the clock on women's rights in general, on civil rights, on voting rights, on gay rights. They are determined to exercise control over who we are, how we feel and believe and act, in ways that I thought we had long left behind.”

Hochul is the first woman to serve as governor of New York. Formerly the lieutenant governor, she took office after the resignation of Democrat Andrew M. Cuomo last year. Clinton highlighted the historic nature of Hochul’s tenure in the state’s top job.

“I really appreciate the way she’s bringing new leadership and stability and new hope for our future to New York, and I think it’s about time since this was the state where the women’s suffrage movement was born,” Clinton said.

Harris denounced Republican efforts to restrict abortion access and ran through a list of Democratic accomplishments with the Biden administration.

Democratic women in New York political leadership who spoke at the event stressed the need for voters to show up to vote for Hochul and not take the election for granted. Some recent polls show Hochul leading Zeldin, but by single-digits in a state that generally leans heavily toward Democrats.

Zeldin has lauded the Dobbs decision, but he has also said he would not change New York’s law. In a campaign ad released last month he said, “As governor, I will not change and could not change New York’s abortion law.”

The Republican has focused on rising crime in the state — an issue Republicans have highlighted elsewhere across the country. Clinton responded in her remarks, accusing the GOP of fearmongering.

“I have to also just reflect that I’ve seen, and I’m sure you have if you — maybe you don’t watch television — but if you did, you would see what I see, which are ads about crime every 30 seconds, right? No solutions, but just a lot of really fearful, scary pictures and scary music,” said Clinton.

She referenced the attack on Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, who was assaulted last week by an intruder with a hammer, criticizing the response by some Republicans such as Lake, who have sought to turn the attack into a punchline. (“Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. — apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection,” Lake recently said.)

“An intruder hits an 82-year-old man in the head with a hammer, who happens to be married to the speaker of the House, and the Republicans joke about it. The woman running for governor in Arizona jokes about it,” said Clinton. “Now why would any sensible person want to give power to somebody who thinks it’s funny that a person gets assaulted in his own home? So you know, they don’t care about keeping you safe. They want to keep you scared, so that you can’t think straight.”

Echoing other Democrats, the speakers here also cast Republicans as a threat to Social Security and Medicare. And Hochul made a direct pitch to young voters at one point, saying, “I want you to feel the weight on your shoulders as you march out of here. With that determination, the guts and courage that all of those who came before us had to pass down this gift to us.”

Emma Sherman-Hawver, a Columbia student attending the event, said she was glad Clinton was holding an event for Hochul, noting her state ties.

“I think if she can play it strategically, then it helps a lot,” Sherman-Hawver said. “Obviously there are places in the country that may not be as supportive, but I think here is like if you were to go anywhere, I think it’s a really good choice that she came here.”

But Jack Lobel, another Columbia student and spokesperson for the Gen Z-focused group Voters of Tomorrow, said Democrats need to put more work into their outreach to young voters.

“It is unreasonable for Democrats to expect that young people turn out but then don’t put in money into outreach, they don’t put in effort and time,” Lobel said. “It seems like the only people who are focused on Gen Z outreach is Gen Z, and that’s really something that is not going to be sustainable if Democrats want to keep winning in the future.”

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.

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