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‘Like looking for a unicorn’: few moderates in sight as GOP prepares Cuomo’s withdrawal


Dynamics are not the result of a choice or a strategy but rather of an environment. The GOP is nearly decimated statewide, 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 Democrats and center-right independents – in especially one that has the type of funding. and the zeal that Zeldin does.

The next George Pataki simply does not exist.

“Right now, it’s starting to look like the hunt for a unicorn because such a Republican probably won’t come out of the primary,” said Bruce Gyory, a longtime Democratic strategist in Albany.

Zeldin scored another clear marker on Friday by announcing that he had been backed by Republican county presidents representing more than half of the party’s weighted vote, positioning him as the party’s nominee for the party’s governor-design if support looms large. maintained until next year’s congress.

It is not the same as an appointment; Any Republican who gets 25 percent of the weighted vote at the convention would automatically receive a place in the primary ballot, and others would be able to gather petitions for a main challenge. Ten potential candidates took part in a poll the party sent out to supporters in mid-April, each of whom was invited for an in-person exam in Albany. GOP leaders have also established schedules for candidates to come and speak to their committees on a regional basis.

But Zeldin’s campaign is way ahead of that of its peers. He courted local county leaders and carried $ 2.5 million in the first 10 days of his campaign. Zeldin met with Republican Governors Association executive director Dave Rexrode on Thursday and garnered support from leaders of the small but powerful New York Conservative Party.

The goal has always been to get a player into the game as early as possible, according to state party chairman Nick Langworthy. And when it comes to the most important factor in choosing a candidate, there is really only one answer, said Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who lost to Cuomo in the election. General of 2018 and is considering another race.

“Win,” Molinaro said in an interview. “My message is very simple: we just need to be unified. It won’t be easy, whoever the candidate is. “

Zeldin hasn’t made an effort so far to downplay his record or his connections.

Asked during Albany’s verification session about how his relationship with Trump and his anti-abortion record might play out in a general election, Zeldin called them distractions and said he would instead “triple” them. questions that he says matter most to the New Yorker he spoke to.

“They say, ‘If you don’t show up and you don’t win, I’m leaving,’ he told reporters and party leaders at the candidates’ forum in mid-April. “And I’m telling you that the issues they cite are issues with the economy, issues with public safety, issues with education, and being embarrassed by the governor. And I’m just going to keep focusing on what New Yorkers tell me they want me to focus on.

Yet there is no doubt that a Republican candidate for a statewide post in New York City cannot simply rely on other party members. to win a general election. Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, another potential candidate who has aggressively courted local party leaders, said at the forum in Albany, noting that bringing in Democrats would be vital during the general election .

Astorino speaks from experience – he lost to Cuomo in 2014 by 14 points. But the plan he launched for 2022 did not include highlighting bipartisanship as much as it did communicating the Republican message to a wider audience, possibly in Spanish, he said.

“Hablo español y esto es muy important: because I’m going to be able to go to the neighborhoods and embrace our virtues as a Republican, and talk about issues that are important, not just in the Hispanic community,” he said. He highlighted the support he 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 speculated that if the GOP is to break the recent Democratic monopoly on governor’s office, it should follow the 1994 manual, when Pataki defeated Mario Cuomo as a center-right candidate. pro-choice and pro-environment. with a reputation for calmer pragmatism that contrasted with Cuomo’s more dramatic policies.

It was another time; the Republican Party had vital anchorages across New York City – a more vibrant presence in the upstate, Republican fail-safe strongholds on Long Island, a sitting US Senator at Al D’Amato, who served as as party leader, a healthy GOP majority in the State Senate, and new New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the first Republican to win the city’s highest office since John Lindsay in 1965.

In theory, a well-funded moderate candidate – someone like longtime GOP representative in central New York City, John Katko – could thread the ideological needle to pose a real challenge to a Democrat next year, has said Gyory, Albany’s political strategist. But first, he or she would have to pass primary, and that could lead to problems. More New York voters are not affiliated with any party than they are registered as Republicans – it will be difficult to call on them in a general election after winning over the GOP’s pro-Trump conservatives, a Gyory said.

There are about 6.7 million registered Democrats in New York, about 3 million registered in no party, and about 2.9 million registered Republicans.

While Zeldin has already garnered the support of several key county presidents, others still awaiting members’ comments said they also hailed his momentum and energy.

“I don’t think there’s a slow button on Lee Zeldin,” Albany County Republican Party Chairman Randy Bashwinger said 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 has proven that he can fundraise. “

Richard L. Andres Jr., who leads Republicans in Niagara County, thinks voters want a “clear choice” between candidates because they define themselves more clearly than they were in 1994, when the parties were less ideological.

Republicans pointed out that in 2020, Trump had received tens of thousands more votes in New York than in 2016, driven in part by gains in predominantly Latin American communities like the Bronx. But he still lost the state by more than 20 percentage points in both years.

This year, Republicans are therefore banking on the idea that the traditional issues – taxation and crime, to begin with – will play better next year than in 2018.

“We always thought we had a message that would appeal if we could get it across,” Andres Jr. said. With Trump in the White House, he said, the party leader’s language was “so exaggerated that our local candidates could not cut the noise and there was no way to distinguish between his policies and our policies.

“Now is the time before election day to do this. The midterms have always been in favor of the provocative party and I hope history will repeat itself ”. he said. “I am a professor of government, I am a professor of history. 150 years of history tell me it’s going to be a good year for Republicans, the question is how good?

Would Andres be right to say that history repeats itself? It may depend on who the Democrat is. Cuomo said in 2019 that he intended to run for a fourth term and, despite scandals gnawing at his popularity, has not rescinded the post. Asked in March about his intentions for 2022, his fellow Democrats began to call for his resignation en masse, Cuomo replied that it was “not a day for politics.”

The governor, who is facing an impeachment inquiry and multiple criminal investigations, faces sexual misconduct charges and claims to have concealed the number of Covid-related deaths linked to retirement homes. Only 40% of New York voters say they view Cuomo favorably, while 52% view him unfavorably – a record, according to an April Siena College Research Institute. This is down from 77-21 a year ago.

Should Cuomo step down or decide not to run for a fourth term, GOP leaders and consultants recognize that a new face in the form of Attorney General Tish James or Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would change the nature of the race. But, so far, no Democrats have declared a 2022 gubernatorial candidacy..

The GOP is counting on the race against Cuomo for the fourth time and is counting on the idea that New Yorkers are fed up with more than a decade of his leadership.

This is where some parallels of 1994 come into play. Pataki’s victory is largely attributed, among other things, to the “Cuomo fatigue” that characterized Mario Cuomo’s third term. And Pataki used simple concepts that hit home close to home: cut taxes, cut spending, put an end to crime.

That same political message is relevant again in 2021, with the GOP attacking Cuomo and the Democrats for raising taxes and passing controversial criminal justice reform bills when they returned to the two-chamber regime in 2019.

These issues and the general feeling of exhaustion – rather than political affiliations – should be enough for anyone on the fence to support a change in leadership next year, Kings County GOP Chairman Ted Ghorra said.

“By removing all other factors – New Yorkers need to think with their heads and not with their hearts, ”he said. “Just see what the one-party rule did?” It must be largely based on politics and common sense. “



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