Rep. Lee Zeldin has been informally crowned by New York Republicans as their pick to run for governor next year after he won 85% in a straw poll taken during a meeting of county leaders, Politico reported on Tuesday.
State party Chair Nick Langworthy said Zeldin, a four-term member of Congress, will now be considered the "presumed nominee," giving him some 17 months to gather support and donors for the 2022 general election.
However, Zeldin may still have to contend with a primary next June, as at least three other Republican hopefuls said they will continue with their efforts to be the GOP nominee.
A Republican nominee faces the possibility of running against incumbent Andrew Cuomo, who is considering competing for a fouth term as governor despite facing a number of scandals, which have led to an investigation by the state attorney general and an impeachment probe in the state Assembly.
A Republican has not won a statewide race in New York since 2002, when Gov. George Pataki captured a third term, according to the New York Post.
Zeldin said he is confident he has built a campaign strong enough to overcome a challenge from other Republicans in a primary and from Democrats in the general election, Politico reported.
"The rule of fire supremacy in the military, the way I'm trained, is that for every one bullet fired at you, fire three back," said Zeldin, a veteran of Iraq and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. "The political [equivalent] for me is that you fire 50,000 back. I put together a coalition of tens of thousands of people for a race like this to absolutely ensure that we are crushing it on Nov. 8, 2022."
Langworthy insisted that "Lee has earned this … because [he] has zigzagged this state at a rapid pace that I’ve never seen before."
He added that donors and other party officials have told him they don't want a primary, saying everyone understands, "and I think the candidates deep down understand, that a primary in a state where we’re down so much in enrollment is only going to put us in a position to expend resources we absolutely should not waste."
But Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and one of the candidates pledging to continue the fight for the nomination, said "I think this is too early. I think if you just look at the numbers, I think you'll see that we perform better in blue states whenever there's a primary."
Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who lost to Cuomo in 2014 but is hoping for a rematch, dismissed the straw poll, saying that "the three million Republicans throughout New York will be deciding who the strongest candidate is in next June’s primary, not a few dozen party insiders, many of whom have told me they were pressured into making an endorsement they weren’t ready to make."
Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli, the first candidate to announce a challenge to Cuomo last year, also said he will continue to battle forr the nomination.
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