New York City’s crime crisis has taken center stage in the highly-contested gubernatorial race between Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin, but former Clinton pollster Mark Penn says the tragic killing of a young mother blamed on Hochul’s soft-on-crime policies could be what gives the win to Zeldin.
Keaira Bennefield, 30, was fatally shot in front of her children at about 8:30 in the morning on Oct. 5, less than 24 hours after her estranged husband was released from custody without bail for allegedly beating her.
Adam Bennefield, 45, allegedly rammed his car into his wife’s vehicle that morning while she was taking her three children to school. The kids, who range from ages 6 months to 9 years, were in the car when he allegedly shot her execution-style.
Adam Bennefield, 45, allegedly killed his estranged wife Keaira hours after being released from police custody on no bail. (Buffalo Police Department)
“Crime is the number one issue in New York State, and this horrific murder, in which someone beats her first and is let out on the street, this could be the incident close enough to the election, clear enough in its relation to the bail laws… wow, this could really be it,” Penn, a Fox News contributor, told “America’s Newsroom” hosts Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino Wednesday as polls tighten to single-digits.
Keaira Bennefield had begged police to help her in the weeks leading up to her death, according to the New York Post. Adam Bennefield has a previous conviction for kidnapping another woman at gunpoint and had allegedly abused his estranged wife.
“She should be charged for the crime. She’s also responsible for the crime,” Keaira Bennefield’s mother Tammy Hudson told The New York Post this week of Hochul.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 26: New York Governor Kathy Hochul campaigns for the upcoming New York gubernatorial election on October 26, 2022 at a senior center in Brooklyn, New York. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Penn reflected on the New York City crime epidemic of the 1990s, emphasizing former President Bill Clinton sought police endorsements and took tough-on-crime stances to resonate with those afflicted by the issue at the time.
“History does repeat itself over and over again,” he said, noting similarities to today’s crisis.
New York Republican gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin shut down a reporter who questioned he chose to “talk politics” after a shooting occurred directly outside his home. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
“We’re seeing here that the policies that led to crime in the 90s are being repeated now, and I think they’re even more extreme. The truth of the matter is, New Yorkers don’t support these policies.”
Penn said Zeldin has run a “smart campaign” by focusing on crime while Hochul seeks to push off the issue until after the election, another move that could potentially harm her chances of winning.
Zeldin, who recently appeared with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to rally Staten Island voters to the polls, told Sean Hannity Tuesday night that the energy, momentum and issues are on his side in the race.
“People are done with Kathy Hochul,” he said on “Hannity.” “And this is Republicans, Democrats, independents [coming] all together as New Yorkers to save this state.”
Last week, the Fox News Power Rankings moved New York from Solid D to Likely D as crime emerged as the dominant issue. One week later, the race continues to tighten as several recent polls have the race within 10 points.
Fox News’ Emma Colton and Rémy Numa contributed to this report
Taylor Penley is a production assistant with Fox News.