ALBANY — Rep. Lee Zeldin has the most endorsements so far, but Rob Astorino contends he would be the Republicans’ best bet as a candidate for New York governor in 2022.
"I think at the end of the day, I’m going to be the best general election candidate," Astorino, the former Westchester County executive and 2014 GOP candidate, said Tuesday from the steps of the State Capitol when officially announcing his candidacy.
Astorino and Zeldin are just two of the Republican candidates interested in challenging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is facing multiple investigations, next year. Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive and the party’s 2018 candidate against Cuomo, also is interested.
Zeldin (R-Shirley) has gotten off to the fastest start, racking up endorsements from a majority Republican county chairs. But that doesn’t always translate to winning the nomination.
Bill Weld in 2006 had a majority of county leaders early but lost the nomination. Rick Lazio was named the party’s designated candidate at its 2010 convention but lost in a primary.
"The fact that a certain amount of county chairs have thrown their endorsement behind one person at this point is literally meaningless to me," Astorino, 54, said, who likened early endorsements to presidential straw polls. "We’re a year away from a convention, so a lot can happen."
State GOP chairman Nick Langworthy has said he’d like the party to settle on a candidate by June to give time to build a campaign. Astorino indicated he’s willing to continue his bid through a primary.
"I’m not concerned what some insiders and the establishment want," Astorino said.
Plus, some analysts wonder if Zeldin is too tied to former President Donald Trump to win in a heavily Democratic state such as New York. Zeldin has said Trump won’t be a factor in 2022.
Astorino praised Zeldin, but made a point of saying he’s won in Westchester, which is much more Democratic than Suffolk County, Zeldin’s base, which he called a "red county."
"If you can win like I did there, then you can win statewide," Astorino said.
He was elected to Westchester’s top job in 2009 and 2013 but lost in 2017. He also lost his bid for state Senate in 2020.
Astorino contended Trump’s deep unpopularity in New York triggered local Republican losses, including in the state Senate and numerous county legislatures over the last four years. Astorino pointed out Trump lost Westchester County by 37 percentage points in 2020 and he outperformed the president on the county level.
Astorino noted that when he lost to Cuomo in 2014 (54% to 40%), Republicans weren’t unified behind him because some didn’t want to oppose a then-popular Democratic governor.
"Unity is going to be the biggest difference this time," Astorino said.