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Rep. Lee Zeldin clinches victory in New York’s Republican governor race

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 6/29/2022 Denis Slattery, Chris Sommerfeldt

Rep. Lee Zeldin clinched victory in New York’s Republican gubernatorial primary late Tuesday, coming out on top after an acrimonious campaign against a field of challengers that included former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s son.

Zeldin, a Long Island Republican and one of former President Donald Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress, was declared the winner by the Associated Press around 10:30 p.m. as early state Board of Elections returns showed him leading runner-up candidate Andrew Giuliani by a wide margin.

Addressing supporters at an election night party in Nassau County, Zeldin said he’s determined to mount an aggressive general election campaign against Gov. Hochul, who sailed to victory in Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.

“This is a rescue mission to save our state and losing is not an option,” Zeldin told attendees who erupted in a “Lee! Lee! Lee!” chant.

Zeldin, who was first elected to Congress in 2014, is vying to become the first GOP governor of the Empire State in over two decades. New York hasn’t elected a Republican governor since George Pataki won reelection in 2002, but Zeldin hopes his tough-on-crime, anti-coronavirus mandate messaging will reverberate with New Yorkers after decades of Democratic rule.

Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (far left) businessman Harry Wilson (second from left) Suffolk County Congressman Lee Zeldin (second from right) and Andrew Giuliani (far right) son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani face off during New York's GOP gubernatorial debate at the studios of CBS2 TV on June 13, 2022. © Provided by New York Daily News Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (far left) businessman Harry Wilson (second from left) Suffolk County Congressman Lee Zeldin (second from right) and Andrew Giuliani (far right) son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani face off during New York's GOP gubernatorial debate at the studios of CBS2 TV on June 13, 2022.

Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (far left) businessman Harry Wilson (second from left) Suffolk County Congressman Lee Zeldin (second from right) and Andrew Giuliani (far right) son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani face off during New York's GOP gubernatorial debate at the studios of CBS2 TV on June 13, 2022. (Bebeto Matthews/)

It’s a tough road ahead against Hochul in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republican voters by more than 2 to 1.

Zeldin was the state GOP’s top pick early on in the race, winning the support of party leaders at a February convention held on Long Island.

His position as front runner became less certain as the race dragged on and Giuliani gained momentum seemingly on name recognition alone.

Recently polling suggested that the Long Island lawyer and former state senator only led Giuliani by a 7% margin.

An online poll conducted by SurveyUSA in mid-June favored Giuliani even more, showing he trailed Zeldin by just two points.

But a wave of support in Zeldin’s political strongholds of Suffolk and Nassau Counties tipped him over the edge, and Giuliani conceded defeat at a raucous election night primary in Midtown Manhattan.

“I want to urge everyone in this room to get behind the next governor of New York, Lee Zeldin,” Giuliani said before calling Hochul “more corrupt than Cuomo” and declaring it “imperative” that she’s defeated in the Nov. 8 election.

But some supporters in the Giuliani crowd were not convinced.


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“F--k Zeldin! Zeldin is a RINO,” shouted one woman, using an acronym for “Republican-in-name-only,” before breaking into tears. Others in the room booed.

Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani votes with his wife Zivile Rezgyte and their daughter Grace in New York, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. © Provided by New York Daily News Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani votes with his wife Zivile Rezgyte and their daughter Grace in New York, Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani votes with his wife Zivile Rezgyte and their daughter Grace in New York, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (Seth Wenig/)

A former White House staffer in the Trump administration and the son of ex-Mayor Giuliani, Giuliani crisscrossed the state campaigning in Republican strongholds alongside his father.

The race played out as the elder Giuliani made his own headlines due to his involvement in former President Donald Trump’s failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Testimony given by ex-Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson during a hearing by the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection revealed Tuesday that the erstwhile mayor asked Trump for a pardon over his role in the Jan. 6 attack.

The former mayor attended his son’s election night party, but did not address the crowd and was escorted out of the venue without taking any questions from reporters.

Asked after his concession about the explosive congressional testimony about his dad, Giuliani confirmed he used to work with Hutchinson in the White House, but claimed he had not gotten a chance to review her comments to Congress.

“I was focused today on our primary race, so I actually did not actually get to see what she said,” he told the Daily News. “All I can tell you is I’m very, very proud of my father, the greatest mayor in the history of New York City.”

While the younger Giuliani has little actual political experience on his resume, his father repeatedly vouched for him on the campaign trail.

“He’ll do for New York State what I did for New York City, turn it around,” the 78-year-old said during a Facebook video recorded after he claimed he was assaulted by a Staten Island grocery store worker who slapped him on the back over the weekend.

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Despite leaving office in the wake of his far-right supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol, Trump remains widely popular among Republican voters and his shadow loomed large over the New York GOP governor’s race.

Giuliani’s gubernatorial campaign slogan was “Make Albany Great Again,” a tribute to Trump’s 2016 campaign pitch.

And in a debate performance earlier this month, Giuliani trumpeted the ex-president’s false claim that the 2020 election was rigged against him. At the same debate, Zeldin played more coy on the issue, saying that Americans “will never” know who truly won the 2020 election while defending his decision to on Jan. 6, 2021 vote against the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

The two other candidates in the GOP gubernatorial battle, Harry Wilson and Rob Astorino, did not embrace the Trumpian brand as adamantly as Zeldin and Giuliani on the campaign trail.

Wilson, an upstate businessman, entered the race late, self-funded his campaign and cast himself as an outside spoiler who could bring a hedge fund mentality to Albany. At a pair of recent debates, Zeldin and Giuliani both painted Wilson, who nearly won a 2010 comptroller’s race, as a Democrat in disguise.

“You’re on the wrong debate stage, man,” Zeldin said after dismissing Wilson as a “Never-Trumper” and a “RINO.”

The bad blood also played out in snarky digital ads as well as the courts after Wilson sued Zeldin over alleged campaign finance violations, arguing that the congressman dipped into funds reserved for post-primary.

Astorino, a former Westchester County executive who lost a general election to disgraced former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 as well as a state Senate race last year, never seemed to gain traction despite his past popularity within the party.

The quartet campaigned on similar platforms, attacking Dems over crime, New York’s cashless bail system and the economy. But in-fighting began early as each of the four attacked one another over support for Trump — or lack thereof.

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