New York Democrats knew Republicans would hammer them over public safety during the midterm election campaigns. They expected messaging around changes to the state’s bail laws — the claims that the so-called reforms had actually allowed dangerous criminals to roam the streets. State lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul even took steps to insulate themselves, rolling back some of the changes and devising a fact-based response to the attacks, but it didn't work, Politico reports. Republicans across the U.S. campaigned on crime. Nowhere did it resonate more than in New York, where the GOP flipped three House seats and won two open races, giving the party the majority. “This was a nationally coordinated campaign by the Republicans, and we did not, frankly, rise to the occasion to explain to people what we did do and how the point was and still is not to criminalize poverty — it’s to criminalize criminals,” said state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Democratic strategists and advocates for the bail changes say some of the messaging failed for a simple reason: No one was explicitly championing the bail laws and the reasons for them to voters. That included Hochul, who won by a narrow six points. She campaigned on public safety, after being repeatedly criticized by her GOP opponent Lee Zeldin, but struggled to highlight the fact that she held up the state budget in April to get reluctant lawmakers to toughen the bail laws amid complaints across the state, including from Democratic New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “New York was arguably the epicenter of a diverse and highly energized criminal justice reform movement — but you wouldn’t know it based on the rhetoric from this past election cycle,” said Jason Kaplan of public affairs firm SKDK who helped run Democratic campaigns. Republicans blasted the airwaves — fueled by $12 million from cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder — with sepia-toned conjectures that the bail laws, which Democrats have tweaked twice since passing, have been responsible for rising crime and New Yorkers widespread sense of unease, despite little evidence to back up their claims.