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Zeldin gets Molinaro backing in bid for GOP gubernatorial nomination

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., center, conducts a news

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., center, conducts a news conference in the senate subway before the continuation of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Jan. 24, 2020. Credit: AP/Tom Williams

ALBANY — Rep. Lee Zeldin, already the front-runner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, picked up another major endorsement Tuesday — from the party’s 2018 candidate.

Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who had been openly considering another campaign, pulled the plug on his own run in 2022 and said he will endorse Zeldin instead.

"The truth of the matter is we need good people who will stand up and fight for ordinary New Yorkers and Lee Zeldin not only understands that but has done it as a congressman and has done in the United States Armed Services," Molinaro said.

Zeldin, a fourth-term congressman from Shirley, already has locked up endorsements from enough county-level Republicans to, in theory, sew up the nomination a year before the party’s 2022 convention. But those endorsements aren’t binding and recent history shows the Republican with the most early endorsements doesn’t always become the nominee.

Republican state chairman Nick Langworthy has called Zeldin the front-runner and has said he wants party leaders to unify behind one candidate by the end of June so as to have a long build up to the campaign.

With Molinaro out, the other high-profile Republican candidate in the running is Rob Astorino, the former Westchester county executive.

Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Joe Holland, a former Pataki administration housing commissioner, also have said they are running for governor.

Zeldin has been a vocal backer of former President Donald Trump, including voting against certifying the results of the 2020 election on Jan. 6 after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly riot.

In contrast, Molinaro ran in 2018 against Democrat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo while distancing himself from Trump and trying to downplay national politics as a factor in the New York election.

Zeldin said he was honored to receive Molinaro’s backing.

"He's an outstanding leader and deeply dedicated public servant, and it's an honor to have him on board Team Zeldin to save our state," Zeldin said in a statement.

Astorino campaign spokesman Phil Oliva downplayed the impact of early endorsements.

"Rob has not asked for one Republican official's endorsement. Regardless of where the party establishment is today, they will be with Rob after the primary," Oliva said in a statement.

Cuomo has said he intends to run for a fourth term but he is facing investigations on multiple fronts and an inquiry by the state Assembly that could result in his impeachment.

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