When Kathy Hochul became New York’s first female governor, and again after she accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination in February, she didn’t let the moments pass without noting their historical significance.
Referencing a speech by Theodore Roosevelt that compared politics to an arena, she celebrated the milestone, saying that for the first time, “a woman has entered that arena as governor.”
Yet in the months that followed, as Ms. Hochul campaigned to become the first woman to be elected to the governor’s mansion in Albany, her focus on the barriers she had broken down largely receded.
But as the race closes in against her Republican challenger, Rep. Lee Zeldin, Ms. Hochul brings that message back to the fore when she takes the stage Thursday alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton during a women’s vote. event at Barnard College, a private women’s college in Manhattan.
The rally is part of a bigger push Ms. Hochul’s campaign is making to draw Democratic voters to the polls and help the governor push back against Mr. Zeldin.
Although recent major polls showed Ms Hochul in the lead, what was initially a sizable margin appeared to shrink as Election Day approached. Republicans have become energized by the prospect of taking the gubernatorial seat in liberal New York, and Mr. Zeldin has benefited from a massive outside spending campaign from ultra-wealthy conservative donors.
As Ms. Hochul’s campaign entered its final sprint, organizers have focused heavily on energizing the Democrats’ traditional black and Latino voter base through ads and rallies, particularly in New York City. Democratic strategists believe that if Ms. Hochul can rack up enough votes there, she can counter any gains Mr. Zeldin might make in the suburbs and upstate where Republicans are generally more competitive.
Thursday’s event marks Ms. Hochul’s most significant effort yet to boost women’s participation.
When she took office, replacing former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after he resigned, she openly said she hoped her milestone could inspire women to be ambitious or follow her in politics. She pointed to being a historic first, even symbolically standing under a glass ceiling after winning her primary election.
During this campaign, Ms. Hochul has sometimes associated her identity with the issues. In particular, after it became clear that the Supreme Court was about to strike down the constitutional right to abortion, Ms. Hochul said the issue was not just political. “As a woman,” she said in May, “it’s personal.”
Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat who in 2013 unsuccessfully ran to be New York’s first openly gay female mayor, said she thought it was important to make that connection.
Her failure to highlight her own identity, she added, was a major campaign mistake.
“I downplayed the historic nature of my campaign, and that was a mistake,” said Ms. Quinn, leader of the state Democratic Party. She added, “If you don’t promote who you are, you seem to lack authenticity.”
But when Ms Hochul took part in her general election run against Mr Zeldin, she mentioned her gender less frequently. Even as access to abortion became the main focus of her campaign over the summer, Ms Hochul spoke less often about her own relationship with it and did not mention it in her TV ads. .
Thursday’s event felt like a strategic counterattack, featuring other women who had achieved firsts. The vice president was the first woman and woman of color to hold this position; Mrs. Clinton was the first female senator from New York and the first woman to serve as a major party presidential candidate; and Letitia James, who is running for re-election, was the first woman to be elected New York’s attorney general and the first black person to hold the office.
Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College, said the governor was probably right to focus on the issues and her record rather than pointing out to voters the groundbreaking nature of her campaign.
Voters often dismissed identity-based appeals as irrelevant to issues that mattered more to them, she said.
“When we look at research,” Professor Zaino said, “for the candidate, touting their ‘primity’, if you will, is rarely a winning strategy.”
Democrats across the country hoped that women alarmed by the Supreme Court’s decision and moves by Republican-led states to limit abortion access would be encouraged to vote for them. A number of polls in the state gubernatorial race showed Ms. Hochul had a significant lead among women.
But national polls covering the race for control of Congress found women shifting their support from Democrats to Republicans, especially as crime and the economy became bigger issues for voters.
A New York Times poll released last month found a major shift among women who identified as independent voters, and a Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday found a similar shift among white suburban women. Mr. Zeldin has aggressively courted both groups, largely focusing on public safety and inflation.
Ms. Hochul in turn moved her post. She has spent the past few weeks highlighting her efforts to crack down on illegal guns and pass gun control laws to refute Mr Zeldin’s claims that she is not tough enough on crime.
Yet she hasn’t completely left the issue of abortion behind. It is expected to be a major focus at Thursday’s rally, and it was one of his central arguments during his debate against Mr Zeldin last month.
“Nobody runs like a simple woman,” Ms Quinn pointed out. “She presents herself as a multi-faceted candidate, as any good candidate would.”
Ruth Igelnik and Jeffery C.Mays contributed report.