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In debate, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul hits Lee Zeldin on Trump, vote to overturn 2020 election

Heated debates as midterms approach
Heated debates help shape campaigns in final two weeks before midterm elections 12:11

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin clashed Tuesday evening in their only debate of the 2022 midterm campaign, grappling over crime, abortion rights and Zeldin's record on questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

Hochul sought to tie her opponent to former President Donald Trump and dismantle Zeldin's voting record in Congress at the same time. "You've been an election denier, a climate change denier — you and Donald Trump were the masterful COVID deniers," Hochul said.

For his part, Zeldin avoided answering a question about whether he'd support Trump in a 2024 bid, but he defended his support of the former president's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Zeldin was one of 147 House Republicans who objected to certifying President Biden's electoral victory on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly after the Capitol building was attacked by Trump's supporters.

"The vote was on two states, Pennsylvania and Arizona. The issue remains today," Zeldin said. Moderators noted that there is no evidence of widespread systemic fraud in the 2020 election.

When asked, Zeldin also agreed to accept the results of the gubernatorial election. "Well, first off, losing is not an option. Secondly, playing along with your hypothetical question, of course," he replied.

Hitting back at Hochul, Zeldin accused her of focusing on Trump in order to distract from her administration's record on crime, which Zeldin has made a central part of his campaign. "It's no coincidence that you asked a question about crime, and my opponent wants to talk about the former president," Zeldin said.

During the campaign, Zeldin promised to declare a state of emergency in New York in order to suspend recently passed criminal justice laws and to remove Manhattan's elected district attorney from office, and he reiterated this Tuesday night. 

"The message will absolutely be sent that if you're the D.A., it stands for District Attorney, not defense attorney," he said. "If he's not going to do his job, I'm gonna do my job and I'm going to remove him as soon as I can."

"You can't throw out someone who's duly elected," Hochul retorted. "But for someone who voted to overturn a presidential election, I'm not surprised." 

When asked about her own party's 2024 plans, Hochul said she hopes President Joe Biden seeks reelection. "He has delivered for the people of this country in ways that we still don't know the benefits," she said. "The Inflation Reduction Act, the infrastructure dollars that Lee Zeldin voted against."

On the issue of abortion access, Hochul said she supports limits to the procedure outlined in the state's codification of Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion law overturned by the Supreme Court in June. "You know why nothing changed the day after the Dobbs decision? It's because I'm the governor of the state of New York and he's not," Hochul said.

"The law in New York was exactly the same as it was the day before, and I'm not going to change that," Zeldin responded. Later, however, Zeldin avoided answering the moderators' question about whether he would continue New York state funding for Planned Parenthood.

Early voting in New York begins Oct. 29.

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