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Representative Lee Zeldin (RN.Y.) speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. | Jacquelyn Martin

ALBANY, NY – Far-right New York Republicans are not sleeping on what could be their biggest opening yet to replace three-term Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose uncertain political future depends on state and federal investigations on his personal and professional behavior.

Just a day after New York City passed a $ 212 billion budget filled with progressive goodies, Rep. Lee Zeldin (RN.Y.) said he would run for governor next year. The MAGA-aligned congressman’s candidacy comes after Andrew Guiliani, the son of the former New York mayor, said he discussed his own governorship ambitions with former President Donald Trump, the former client of his father.

While these early challengers – along with Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli – could signal a Republican primary teeming with celebrities and fire marks, State Party Chairman Nick Langworthy has said the only way is for the GOP to have a chance in 2022 would be to unify behind a single candidate. Langworthy, in a statement Thursday, said he was “thrilled” by Zeldin’s announcement and looks forward to selecting him alongside other potential candidates at a meeting later this month. .

But a Republican has not won a statewide race in New York since moderate George Pataki won a third term as governor nearly two decades ago, after initially defeating Andrew’s father. Cuomo, Mario, to reach the governor’s suite. The state is solidly blue, and Cuomo has repeatedly succeeded in convincing moderate Democrats and independent voters to crush his GOP opponents as well as members of his own left-wing party.

Democrats responded by shrugging their shoulders at news of Zeldin’s candidacy – and looking up to Guiliani, who was a White House aide under Trump.

“My feeling is that, as disappointing as it may be, it is possible for another Republican to one day become governor, even in New York State,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs. , in an interview on Thursday. “I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. However, for that to happen, there has to be a confluence of circumstances – and most of the time, the Republican candidate has to be someone acceptable to New York voters. They need to be moderate and rational, and neither Zeldin nor Guiliani fit this bill.

It is much more likely that if Cuomo runs for a fourth term, he will face as many – if not more – challenges from the left wing of his own party. Even if he doesn’t, the list of potential primary candidates that Democrats eye with varying levels of probability ranges from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to outgoing New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. Cuomo did not say if he still plans to run for a fourth term. New York has no term limit for its governors.

The name most often mentioned in political circles is the state attorney general, Tish James, whose position ensures she will receive serious consideration and who has shown a great deal of political force in shaping the Cuomo investigations. His office is handling the handful of sexual harassment complaints filed against the governor.

“James has favorite status,” said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College and longtime political commentator in New York City. “It has the most name recognition, visibility and it is a statewide office. The report she produces – her verdict on Cuomo – could boost her outlook. But there will likely be something like 25 Democrats vying for it. It will be like the [New York City] the mayor’s race – hell, I might even run.

A spokesperson for James declined to comment.

But no potential lead candidate has emerged so far, and none are on the horizon. Many of Cuomo’s allies have said they want to give him the benefit of the doubt pending the findings of James’ investigation – which she says could take months – and an impeachment inquiry from the Assembly Judiciary Committee. on his allegations of sexual misconduct and political errors.

“I would say it first – first we have to see how the governor’s difficulties dissipate,” Jacobs said. “That will say a lot about what the shape of a primary will look like. It’s one thing to have an injured incumbent and quite another to have an empty seat.

Zeldin represents the easternmost congressional district in the state, stretching from parts of Suffolk County in the east through the Tony Hamptons to Montauk. He was one of more than 100 House Republicans who opposed President Joe Biden’s certification of victory, a topic that continued to be a point of contention. He won re-election with 53% of the vote last year in a district Trump narrowly carried.

He told POLITICO last month he was confident in his ability to match Cuomo’s tens of millions of dollars in fundraising, which none of Cuomo’s last three Republican opponents have been able to do. . And he would focus on Republican red meat policies like lowering taxes, public safety and job creation, he said.

“I will bring the kind of relentless fighting spirit to help save our state that Cuomo reserves for multi-million dollar self-congratulatory book offers, cover-ups, abuse and personal dealings,” wrote Zeldin on Twitter Thursday morning.

Despite the challenges he would face in Democratic strongholds like New York City, Zeldin is a strong candidate with financial backing who could do very well – at least initially – on Long Island and with coveted electoral blocs like Orthodox Jews, according to Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime New York strategist whose clients included Bill Clinton, Mike Bloomberg and Cuomo himself.

“Don’t count Zeldin,” Sheinkopf says. “And Democrats believe that because Zeldin was with Trump, they can take him anywhere and kill him. Don’t believe it either.

The only other declared candidate – Carpinelli, the Lewis County Sheriff who refused to enforce a number of the state’s more progressive gun and immigrant laws – said last summer he was taking a step ahead to put the state “on the right track.” “

The more moderate path that can attract like-minded voters from both parties seems open to taking, especially after the cancellation of Representative Tom Reed’s all-but-stated campaign following reports of a inappropriate sexual behavior towards a young lobbyist in 2017. Two of Cuomo’s previous challengers, former Westchester County Director Rob Astorino and current Dutchess County Director Marc Molinaro both said they were considering another race.

Andrew Giuliani has not officially declared an offer, has never been elected to public office, and his biggest political role has been as Trump’s low-profile White House special assistant. Like Zeldin, he would face a daunting set of circumstances as Trump’s ally in a state where Trump remains deeply unpopular, losing to Biden by more than 20 percentage points last year.

For Cuomo, who often sees negative stories as politically motivated, it might not be such a bad thing for specific opponents to throw mud at him, as it would allow him to retaliate in kind.

But it is likely that the primary will not really take shape for several months. Others with the executive mansion in their sights – especially Democrats – are waiting to see which direction the tides turn for Cuomo and what kind of fighting spirit he might muster, Sheinkopf said.

“It depends on their fear of Andrew Cuomo, now and later,” he said. “That’s the question – has the tiger lost its teeth but not its claws?”

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