The dynamic is not the result of a choice or strategy, but of the environment. The GOP is nearly decimated across the state, and with a polarized landscape on the heels of a Trump presidency, it might be impossible to find a GOP candidate who can appeal to center-right Democrats and independents – especially one who who has the kind of funding and zeal does Zeldin.
The next George Pataki just doesn’t exist.
“Right now it looks like looking for a unicorn because such a Republican is unlikely to emerge from elementary school,” said Bruce Gyory, a longtime Democratic strategist in Albany.
On Friday, Zeldin made another stark impression when he announced he was backed by Republican district chairmen, who represented more than half of the party’s weighted votes, and positioned him as the party’s gubernatorial-designate if the support was up by the next anniversary applies.
It’s not the same as a nomination. Any Republican who got 25 percent of the weighted votes in Congress would automatically get a spot on the main vote, and others could collect petitions for a main vote. Ten potential candidates appeared on a poll that the party sent Mid-April to supporters, each of whom had been invited to Albany for a personal review. The GOP leaders have also set times when candidates can address their committees on a regional basis.
But Zeldin’s campaign is way ahead of its peers. In the first 10 days of his campaign, he courted local district leaders and raised $ 2.5 million. Zeldin met with Executive Director of the Republican Governors’ Association, Dave Rexrode, on Thursday and has received support from leaders of the small but powerful New York Conservative Party.
According to Nick Langworthy, chairman of the state party, the goal has always been to get a player into the game sooner rather than later. And when it comes to the most important factor in choosing a candidate, there really is only one answer, said Marc Molinaro, the executive director of Dutchess County, who lost to Cuomo in the 2018 general election and is considering another run.
“To win,” said Molinaro in an interview. “My message is very simple: we just need to be unified. It won’t be easy no matter who the candidate is. “
Zeldin has so far made no effort to downplay his record or connections.
When asked at the Albany review meeting how his relationship with Trump and his anti-abortion record might play out in the general election, Zeldin called it a distraction and said he would instead “triple” the issues he says he is talking about that the most important to him are the New Yorkers he spoke to.
“They say,” If you don’t run and win, I’ll go, “he told reporters and party leaders during the candidate forum in mid-April.” And I tell you that the issues they are raising are problems related to the economy, problems related to public safety, education-related issues, and the embarrassment about the governor. And I’ll continue to focus on what New Yorkers tell me they want me to focus on. “
However, there is no question that a Republican candidate for national office in New York cannot simply rely on other party members to win a general election. Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, another potential candidate who has been aggressively wooing local party leaders, said so during the forum in Albany, noting that Democratic involvement would be vital during the general election.
Astorino speaks from experience – he lost 14 points to Cuomo in 2014. But the plan he put in place for 2022 did not include highlighting bipartisanism, but rather getting the Republican message across to a wider audience, perhaps in Spanish, he said.
“Hablo español y esto es muy importante: because I’ll be able to go into the neighborhood and defend our virtues as a Republican and talk about issues that are not only important in the Hispanic community,” he said. He noted the support he had received from the NAACP and members of the African American and Hispanic communities during his past campaigns. “That’s how I won at Westchester,” he said.
For years, political observers have theorized that if the GOP wanted to break the latest democratic monopoly on governor, it would have to follow the 1994 game book when Pataki Mario Cuomo was named a pro-choice, pro-environmental center Right-wing candidate vanquished with a reputation for a calmer pragmatism that contrasted with Cuomo’s more dramatic politics.
It was a different time; The Republican Party had important anchors across New York – a livelier upstate presence, resilient Republican strongholds on Long Island, a sitting US Senator in Al D’Amato who served as party leader, a healthy GOP majority in the Senate, and a Der New York City’s new Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the first Republican to win the city’s top job since John Lindsay in 1965.
In theory, a well-funded moderate candidate – someone like the longtime GOP representative in central New York. John Katko – could thread the ideological needle to present a real challenge to a Democrat next year, said Gyory, Albany’s political strategist. But he or she would have to go through elementary school first, and that could create problems. More New York voters are not affiliated with any party than they are registered as Republicans – they will be difficult to reach in general elections after winning the GOP’s pro-Trump Conservatives, Gyory said.
There are about 6.7 million registered Democrats in New York, about 3 million who are not registered in any party, and about 2.9 million registered Republicans.
While Zeldin has already received the support of several key district chairpersons, others still awaiting feedback from members also applaud his dynamism and energy.
“I don’t think Lee Zeldin has a slow button,” said Randy Bashwinger, leader of the Albany County Republican Party, in an interview. “He’s very aggressive, a very energetic person, and that’s what we need … He’s proven he can win [downstate]and proved that he can raise money. “
Richard L. Andres Jr., Niagara County’s Republican Chairman, believes that voters want a “clear choice” between candidates because they define themselves more clearly than in 1994 when the parties were less ideological.
Republicans have advised that in 2020 Trump will receive Tens of thousands more votes in New York City than in 2016, driven in part by increases in Latino-majority communities such as the Bronx. Even so, he lost the state by more than 20 percentage points in both years.
So this year Republicans are betting on the idea that traditional issues – tax and crime first – will play better next year than in 2018.
“We always felt that we had a message that would appeal if we could get it out,” said Andres Jr. With Trump in the White House, he said the party leader’s language “was so exaggerated that our candidates on the ground couldn’t cut through the noise and there was no way of distinguishing between his politics and ours.
“Now is the time to do this before Election Day. Midterms have historically chosen the challenging party and I hope history repeats itself.” he said. “I’m a government teacher, I’m a history teacher. There’s a 150 year history that tells me it’s going to be a good year for Republicans. The question is, how good?”
Could Andres be right if history repeats itself? That may depend on who the Democrat will be. Cuomo said in 2019 that he intended to run for a fourth term and, despite the scandals that undermined his popularity, has not overturned that position. When Cuomo was asked about his intentions for 2022 in March and his Democratic colleagues drove to demand his resignation, he replied that it was “Not a day for politics.”
The governor, who is facing an impeachment investigation and multiple criminal investigations, is charged with sexual misconduct, alleging he hid the death toll related to Covid related to nursing homes. Only 40 percent of New York voters say they see Cuomo positively, while 52 percent see him negatively – a record, according to a research institute at Siena College in April. That’s a drop from 77-21 a year ago.
Should Cuomo step down or decide not to run for a fourth term, the leaders and advisers of the GOP recognize that a new face in the form of Attorney General Tish James or Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would change the way of racing. So far, however, no Democrat has made an offer for the governor by 2022.
The GOP is betting on going up against Cuomo for the fourth time, counting on the idea that New Yorkers will be fed up with his leadership for more than a decade.
Some parallels from 1994 can come into play here. Pataki’s victory is largely attributed, among other things, to the “Cuomo fatigue” that marked Mario Cuomo’s third term in office. And Pataki started from simple concepts that had arrived near home: lower taxes, lower spending, eradicate crime.
The same political message is relevant again in 2021. The GOP attacks Cuomo and Democrats for collecting taxes and passing controversial criminal justice reform bills when they regained the two-house rule in 2019.
Those issues, and the general feeling of exhaustion – rather than political affiliations – should be enough for anyone on the fence to support a leadership change over the next year, said Ted Ghorra, Kings County GOP chairman.
“Take out all other factors – New Yorkers have to think with their heads, not with their hearts, ”he said. “Just see what the one-party rule did? It should be based largely on politics and common sense. “