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Democratic campaign strategy: Hit hard on abortion, Trump, Jan. 6

New York Democrats, buoyed by recent results in the Hudson Valley and elsewhere, have come out slugging on abortion rights, Donald Trump and the Jan. 6 investigations ahead of the November elections.

Whether it’s races for governor, Congress or the State Legislature, Democratic candidates say those issues will energize their base of support heading into Election Day. Led by Gov. Kathy Hochul, they’ve launched a flurry of ads and news releases since Labor Day, the holiday that also marks the unofficial start of the campaign homestretch.

Analysts said the focus on abortion and Jan. 6/Trump is smart strategy, meant to counteract Republican momentum that built up earlier in the year over inflation and crime.

“It will play well,” said Susan Del Percio, a New York-based Republican strategist, “because of what their goal is, which is to increase voter turnout in a midterm election. The biggest issue for Democrats, right now, is to ensure a big turnout. The abortion issue does rally Democrats. It does rally independent and center-right Republican women and men, for that matter.”

Republicans contend Democrats’ recent momentum surge won’t last till November.

“They are trying to scare New Yorkers. It’s just nonsense,” Nick Langworthy, GOP state chairman, said.

Meanwhile, Democrats are attempting to hammer Republicans on issues they believe will swing voters their way.

Hochul released an ad Tuesday blasting Republican opponent Lee Zeldin for opposing abortion rights and for his association with Trump — including voting against certifying the 2020 presidential election just hours after Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol.

The statewide ads are running in English and Spanish.

It’s not just the governor’s race. For instance, in the race for the Nassau County-based 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Robert Zimmerman is touting the same issues — abortion, the Jan. 6 insurrection — against Republican George Santos.

And on a more local level, Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) called for a repeal of abortion restrictions that are still in municipal code in some Long Island municipalities. Kaplan is facing Republican Jack Martins in a key Senate battle.

“It galvanizes your base while dividing the other side,” said Bruce Gyroy, a political strategist and former adviser to two governors, of the Democratic themes. “Democratic enthusiasm has caught up. That’s a big deal because historically Republicans have tended to do well in midterm elections. So it doesn’t surprise me that Hochul’s doing it, that Kaplan is doing it, that Zimmerman is doing it.”

Earlier this year, Republicans seemed to have all the momentum because of inflation and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings.

But the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion-rights case, began to change things. On Aug. 2, voters in conservative Kansas overwhelmingly defeated a proposed amendment that would have removed state protections for abortion rights.

Also in August, Democrat Pat Ryan scored a slight upset by beating Republican Marcus Molinaro in a special election in New York’s Hudson Valley. Ryan leaned hard into the abortion issue to spark Democratic turnout.

Further, the continuing investigation of Jan. 6, Trump’s business dealings and his removing of classified documents from the White House has given Democrats more fodder.

On Long Island, Zimmerman has criticized Santos as extreme on abortion and Jan. 6. He pointed to earlier Santos statements saying Trump was “at his full awesomeness” on Jan. 6 and a 2020 interview in which he said he’d vote for an abortion ban if such a bill came up in Congress.

“George Santos does not represent mainstream voters in Queens and Nassau counties,” Zimmerman said, referring to the 3rd District.

A Santos spokeswoman pointed to a statement issued in June, just after the Supreme Court decision, in which Santos said he was “pro-life” but would “never advocate for an absolute ban on abortion in New York or America.”

In an August interview with Newsday, Santos decried attempts to label him as an extremist and said: “There is not an ounce of extremist in my body.”

Similarly, Hochul’s new ad calls Zeldin, a vocal Trump supporter, “extreme and dangerous” and features footage of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Langworthy contended Hochul is trying to distract voters “because she can’t run on her record.” Like other Republicans, Langworthy said immediate issues of economy and inflation will be the major election factors.

“They are terrified their base is not going to show up,” Langworthy said of Democrats. “There’s a lot of campaign left to fight here and if they think people are going to just take a couple of hot-button issues and that’s going to define the race, they’re dreaming.”