Rep. Lee Zeldin greets then-President Donald Trump at Francis S....

Rep. Lee Zeldin greets then-President Donald Trump at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton in August 2018. Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

ALBANY — Republican nominee for governor Lee Zeldin on Monday downplayed his endorsement by former President Donald Trump, while Democrats aimed to use it to their advantage in the blue state.

On Sunday Trump gave Zeldin his “complete & total endorsement” and called Zeldin “a winner who got things done.”

On Monday, Zeldin held a press conference and in his speech didn’t mention the endorsement by Trump, who is leading the GOP and is a likely candidate for president in 2024.

“It shouldn’t have been news,” Zeldin said in response to a reporter’s question. “He supported me before this weekend. We’ve had great support from all over … it’s not about the former president.”

Hochul’s campaign released an ad in which Trump, with the congressman standing nearby, says of Zeldin: “Lee fought for me very, very hard.” The ad continued Hochul’s theme that Zeldin opposed gun control laws and supported laws against abortion.

“With an endorsement from Trump himself, Lee Zeldin now has a formal stamp of approval as the most extreme and dangerous candidate to ever run for governor in New York State history,” said Hochul’s campaign spokesman Jerrel Harvey. 

Zeldin and other Republican leaders repeatedly have tried to downplay the Trump factor in New York — where the former president is unpopular.

Trump lost New York in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections — garnering 38% of the vote in 2020 against 60% for Democrat Joe Biden.

Further, a recent Siena College poll found 32% of New Yorkers have a favorable view of Trump while almost twice as many — 63% — have an unfavorable view.

“Recent polls for the Hochul-Zeldin gubernatorial race consistently show Governor Hochul in the lead, albeit with variations from low to high single-digit margins,” said Meena Bose, professor of political science, executive dean of the Public Policy and Public Service program. “An endorsement from former President Trump likely reinforces existing support for Congressman Zeldin’s campaign for governor, but may not help — and, in fact, may raise concerns for — independents and undecided voters.”

Zeldin, a congressman from Shirley, was one of Trump’s strongest supporters in Washington. Zeldin refused to vote to certify the results of the 2020 election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Trump, however, has refused to accept that decision.

A Marist Poll on Thursday reported that Zeldin had narrowed the race in the state where Democrats have a more than 2:1 enrollment advantage over Republicans. Voters who chose not to enroll in any party, often called independents, also outnumber Republicans.

The Marist Poll found Hochul led Zeldin by 10 percentage points (51% to 41%) among all voters. That margin narrowed to 8 points (52% to 44%) among those who said they would “definitely vote,” according to the poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Also Monday, the Hochul campaign cited a 2020 text message tweeted by investigative reporter and author Hunter Walker that he said was obtained from the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

Walker tweeted that the text titled “2 ideas” was submitted by Zeldin “on the day before the race was called for Biden.”

The message said: “1) Upload vetted voting irregularities (videos, etc) onto one narrowly focused, credible microsite with a donation link for the Presidents legal fund for all of us to reference. Needs to be done instantly 2) The President should have one lead spokesperson organizing daily public press briefings that credibly lays out the facts communicated in an effective way to separate it from the opinions which also need to be shared. That person needs to give an update of the state of play state by state, including a top line summary of where each battleground state stands with the count, projections, possible recounts, legal actions, vetted voting irregularities, unvetted alleged voting irregularities (make clear that the campaign is intensively reviewing those claims for vetting purposes). Also plug the microsite I mentioned above.”

The Zeldin campaign didn’t dispute the text in its response.

“You know Kathy Hochul is desperate when she’d rather obsess over a text message sent at the beginning of November before the election was even called, rather than focusing on the issues most important to New Yorkers, including rising crime on our streets and a skyrocketing cost of living,” said Zeldin spokeswoman Katie Vincentz.

The Hochul campaign said the text was damning for Zeldin.

“Lee Zeldin’s aspirations to be Donald Trump’s number one ally are never ending,” Harvey said. “Zeldin’s text messages with Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reveal that he played a central role in the former president’s concerted effort to throw out the 2020 presidential election results …”

With Yancey Roy

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