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Potential GOP nominees for governor make pitch to party leaders

Office of the Governor

Next year’s race for governor in New York has officially begun. Republican leaders gathered in Albany Monday to hear from potential gubernatorial nominees, who would go on to compete next year against either Gov. Andrew Cuomo or whichever Democrat lands on the ticket in his place.

Steps from the state capitol, eight interested Republicans took on the task of convincing their colleagues they should be the first Republican elected statewide since 2002. Among them were two former challengers to Cuomo, a member of Congress and Rudy Giuliani's son.

The message from the potential nominees was clear: the Republican Party intends to focus the upcoming election on the controversies surrounding Cuomo, the economy and the consistent out-migration from New York during his tenure in office.

Rep. Lee Zeldin from Long Island was one of only two declared candidates as of Monday afternoon and said he’s hoping voters reject Cuomo next year in favor of him.

“I believe that New York is ready to be returned to glory, but it's not going to happen with the continued reign of Andrew Cuomo,” Zeldin said.

Cuomo has been under fire in recent months over several claims of sexual harassment, his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, and allegations that he used state workers to help with a book he wrote and published last year.

Cuomo has denied inappropriately touching anyone — both at the office and outside work — and has defended his administration’s decisions when it came to nursing homes. He’s also said that any work done by staff on the book was done voluntarily.

Republicans are hoping to seize on the controversies as a reason for voters to side with them in next year’s election and as a way to take former President Donald Trump out of the conversation.

Zeldin, like others interested in the nomination, aligned himself in recent years with Trump, whose identity as the “law and order” candidate and president particularly resonated among Republican voters and members of Congress.

But in a state where there are more than twice as many enrolled Democrats as Republicans, some candidates from the latter party appeared to distance themselves from the former president Monday.

Zeldin, whose campaign has already raised more than $2.5 million since he formally announced his candidacy two weeks ago, was one of them. When asked about his support for Trump, Zeldin said he wouldn’t lean on the former president for support from voters.

“I am going to continue to stay focused on the issues that matter most to New Yorkers, from those doors, real issues from real people,” Zeldin said.

Rob Astorino, the former county executive from Westchester County who challenged Cuomo in 2014, said Democrats won’t be able to use Trump as a target for Republicans in next year’s elections because he’s neither in office nor seeking one.

“So when things are going really bad, and they are, and they will get worse, they can scream Donald Trump, but he's not around,” Astorino said. 

Astorino made the case to leaders from the Republican Party Monday that he could win support from communities that don’t ordinarily connect with conservatives through a series of bipartisan issues, like the rising cost of living in New York and the state’s declining population.

“I’d love to be a real estate agent in Florida right now,” Astorino said.

Of the three Republicans and two Democrats who’ve challenged Cuomo for governor, Astorino has come closest to ousting the three-term governor. He lost to Cuomo by 14 percentage points in 2014. 

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro lost in the general election to Cuomo in 2018 by a wider margin — 59% to 36%. But he said Monday that he’s confident Republicans could close that gap in next year’s race.

“I will tell you that I’m not going to back down, and whatever role it is I need to play, I will,” Molinaro said. “New Yorkers deserve a governor that is as good and decent as they are."

Molinaro’s message for Republican leaders on Monday was one of unity among New Yorkers on top issues, rather than division caused by political affiliation.

He said Republicans, regardless of the candidate, would have to garner support in the general election from Democrats and swing voters, and that appealing to the common ground among New Yorkers should be their strategy to win.

“We recognize that … in order for us to win, we have to not only rally those of us who agree with us, but convince about a million people who, on any given day, might be skeptical of Republican leadership,” Molinaro said.

Also among the contenders who appeared in Albany Monday was Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a former adviser to Trump.

Giuliani did not shy away from his affiliation with the former president, at one point calling him “a close friend.” He said that, if he were to run, he would focus on strategies to reduce crime in New York, support charter schools and boost the economy.

“My intention is to appeal to all New Yorkers and make my case to them, and let them decide whether I’m red, whether I’m blue,” Giuliani said. “I am red, I am true red, but let them decide for themselves on the issues.”

Other potential nominees who made their case to Republican leaders in Albany Monday were businessman Joe Holland, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, Lewis County Sheriff Mike Carpanelli and Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin.

Carpanelli, who has declared his candidacy, said he wanted to focus on a message of consensus among New Yorkers, regardless of party affiliation or geography.

“This is the state of New York. Everybody has a place in the state of New York,” Carpanelli said. “It doesn’t matter if you disagree or not, but we should respect each other.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, who represents part of the North Country, and Rockland County Executive Ed Day were both scheduled to speak to Republican leaders Monday as well, but were pulled away due to last-minute emergencies. 

State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said they're hoping to coalesce around a candidate by early summer. He said Zeldin appeared to be in the lead, based on the amount he's already raised, and that he's already declared his candidacy.

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