As many as eight prospective Republican challengers to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made their pitches to party leaders at a gathering close to the governor's residence on Monday, kick-starting the selection process nearly a year earlier than usual. During the proceedings Rep. Lee Zeldin emerged as the frontrunner, thus signaling the party's determination to contest the 2022 race for governor.
Prior to that, on Sunday, the 41-year-old Zeldin had said that he has raised $2.5 million over 10 days since announcing his bid for governor. Zeldin jumped into the 2022 gubernatorial race as three-term Democrat incumbent Cuomo grapples with coronavirus nursing home death and sexual harassment scandals.
Zeldin's Big Ambitions
Republicans in New York this time are arranging things early as Cuomo continue to gapple with allegations of sexual harassment and covering up Covid-19 death in nursing homes. "This is the earliest the party has, probably in our history, considered statewide candidacies," said state GOP Chair Nick Langworthy.
Understandably, all candidates plan to build a name ID over the next few months and build a war campaign well in advance. Also, it's always lucrative when it comes to taking on a wounded incumbent. However, it was one man who stole the show on Monday.
Zeldin, who represents central and eastern Suffolk County, garnered maximum momentum from the meeting in Albany's Renaissance Hotel. Zeldin announced his candidacy on April 8, and was quick to cite the progress he says his campaign has made in the days since his announcement.
Zeldin said that his campaign has already made quite a progress by raising $2.5 million since the day he announced his candidacy. "As I've traveled across the state, from Western New York to the Capital Region to Long Island, New Yorkers are fired up and passionately all in to save our state, and they're taking action," Zeldin had said in a statement on Sunday.
"Before I decided to get into this race, I made phone calls to all 62 counties and called every Republican county chair in the state; I called dozens of Conservative Party chairs... This isn't one of those situations where I decided to run, and now I'm trying to figure out how to win. We figured out how to win so we could make a decision whether or not to run," Zeldin said at the gathering on Monday.
Needless to say, Zeldin is confident about his campaign. Not only Zeldin even Langworthy too admitted that. "It would be a safe assumption that Lee Zeldin is the frontrunner," Langworthy said. "He has set the pace for the rest of the field. The question is — the other potential candidates we've heard from today, will they meet that pace?"
Who is Zeldin?
Right now, Zeldin looks quite ahead from others in the race. However, Monday's gathering also didn't see all the potential contenders. And there is still time for more contenders to come up in the coming months much like 2018 GOP nominee Marc Molinaro, who officially enter the race only in the spring of that year.
Also, Cuomo intended to run for a fourth term before his popularity plummeted amid multiple state and federal investigations of his actions. So, it might be a bit too early to make predictions but Zeldin for the time being definitely is the frontrunner.
Zeldin is an Army veteran and former state legislator, who is in his fourth term in Congress. He entered the race with the support of the party chairs in Suffolk and Nassau, the two counties with the largest share of the weighted vote at state GOP conventions.
Last week he was also endorsed by Buffalo Republican Carl Paladino, the party's 2010 gubernatorial nominee and a key voice on the party's right flank. On Monday, Zeldin primarily focused on the importance of quickly clearing the field.
He is confident that Cuomo will go and no one can stop that. "They know Cuomo's Gotta Go, and it's going to take a new generation of leadership to get the job done," Zeldin had said in a statement on Sunday. "The support coming from every corner of New York has been inspiring. Together, we will return New York to glory."