The Associated Press projects Gov. Kathy Hochul has beaten Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin in her bid for a full term to lead the state, becoming the first woman elected governor of New York.

The Democratic incumbent and her running mate, Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, hold a 52.8% to 47.2% lead over her Republican opponent and his running mate, former NYPD Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito, with 93.7% of the expected vote counted as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

"Tonight, you made your voices heard loud and clear," she said to supporters Tuesday night in Manhattan. "But, I'm not here to make history. I'm here to make a difference."

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Zeldin conceded the race to Hochul.

He called the close nature of the race a "once in a generation campaign" - a reference to the fact that the margin of victory for Democrats was the smallest since Republicans last won the governorship in 2002 - and praised the "unrelenting passion and hard work" of his volunteers.

“Those controlling Albany should take note. New Yorkers of all walks of life are sick of the attacks on their wallets, their safety, their freedoms and the quality of their kids’ education and are hitting their breaking point, as proven by these results," Zeldin said. "As they take office in January, Governor Kathy Hochul and those controlling Albany must address the grave concerns voiced by the voters."

Zeldin ended his statement by saying, "While this campaign has come to a close, the rescue to Save Our State continues."

Hochul, first elected lieutenant governor in 2014, took office in August 2021 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal and scrutiny over decisions made during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. A native of Buffalo and a veteran of Erie County politics, she is the first governor who hails from outside New York City and its suburbs since Franklin Delano Roosevelt left office in 1933.

“I have been your governor — it’s the highest honor of my life — for the last 14 months. Every single day I wake up and think about how I can fight harder for you and your families,” Hochul said in her opening statement at the Spectrum News governor’s debate in October. “You will see a great contrast here tonight between myself and my record and someone who has been called one of Donald Trump’s strongest and most loyal supporters.”

Zeldin downplayed his associations with the former president — he served on then-President Donald Trump’s defense team during the first impeachment and voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6 — but did not denounce him, holding a fundraiser with Trump in September. And he denied he would restrict abortion rights if elected, arguing a Democratic legislature wouldn’t allow him.

Hochul hit him on both fronts on the trail and in millions of dollars of TV and online ads. She attempted to paint him as an extremist and connected him to the reactionary trends in the Republican Party.

“On the day our Capitol was attacked, a day that led to the death of five brave police officers, Zeldin still voted to overturn the election,” said a narrator in an ad released by her campaign in September. “But that’s not all, Zeldin celebrated Roe v. Wade being struck down.”

The only woman to ever hold the highest office in the state, Hochul’s first year in office required her to navigate New York through the omicron variant surge last winter, a contentious budget negotiation in the spring, the resignation and arrest of her handpicked lieutenant governor in April, and the racist mass shooting at a Tops grocery store in her hometown of Buffalo in May.

In the wake of the Buffalo shooting and another in Uvalde, Texas, Hochul made it a priority to pass a slew of gun laws, calling the legislature back to Albany over the summer after the Supreme Court overturned New York’s concealed carry law.

And in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the question of abortion regulation to the states, the governor worked with legislators to cement and strengthen New York’s abortion laws. Reproductive rights and abortion access became central to her campaign, striking a stark difference with her opponent Zeldin, an anti-abortion congressman who said he would appoint a “pro-life” health commissioner and explore ending state funding for abortion providers.

Zeldin, a staunch conservative who aligned himself with Trump while in Washington, attempted to overcome New York’s overwhelming Democratic advantage and notch Republicans' first statewide victory since Gov. George Pataki won his third and final term in 2002.

But rallies with Pataki, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Virginia Gov. Glen Youngkin and an endorsement from Trump were not enough to propel the Long Island politician to the governor’s mansion.

He focused largely on economic concerns and public safety, appearing almost daily at the scenes of crimes during the homestretch of the campaign. Bail reform laws were a frequent target, as was Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — who Zeldin pledged to remove during his first weeks in office.

“You have people who are afraid of being pushed in front of oncoming subway cars. They’re being stabbed, beaten to death on the street with hammers,” Zeldin said during Spectrum News’ governor’s debate. “The state legislature should come back and they should overhaul cashless bail and these other pro-criminal laws with zero tolerance.”

After downplaying concerns about crime and pointing toward her record on gun control and tweaks to bail reforms passed during the budget process, Hochul focused more intensely on the subject in the waning weeks of the campaign after polls narrowed and showed crime to be a top concern for voters. She criticized Zeldin for opposing gun control laws and supporting the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down New York’s concealed carry law in June.

And in late October, she teamed up with New York City Mayor Eric Adams to flood the subway system with police after highly publicized incidents of violence on the transit system.

“I'm always saying, ‘What can we do to make our subways safer?’” Hochul said. “And my answer back to everyone, I say, ‘Do whatever it takes.’”

What’s next

Now, Hochul has four years to work on her agenda and build her legacy as the state moves further away from the nearly eight years of Cuomo’s rule. With Republicans in position take control of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for at least the next two years, the governor will look to build off her policy victories and establish New York as a liberal bulwark against conservative Supreme Court decisions and a hostile Congress.

“New York has always been a beacon for those yearning to be free,” Hochul said after signing a package of abortion laws in June. “And I want the world to hear that will never change."

Top issues facing Hochul when the legislature returns to Albany include addressing New Yorkers’ concerns about crime, building more housing, ensuring the MTA stays afloat as federal funding dwindles, helping New Yorkers weather inflation and a possible recession, revisiting bail reform laws that Democratic leaders in the Assembly and the state Senate have shown little interest in changing, appointing a new chief justice for New York’s court system, and a plethora of her other priorities and those of lawmakers from around the state.