Rep. Lee Zeldin began exploring a run for governor as...

Rep. Lee Zeldin began exploring a run for governor as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo faced accusations of sexual harassment that now are under investigation by independent prosecutors. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Zeldin got a hometown boost Wednesday in his exploration of a campaign for governor of New York after both of Long Island’s county Republican chairmen said they would endorse him if he decides to run in next year’s election.

Suffolk County Republican chairman Jesse Garcia and Nassau County Republican chairman Joseph G. Cairo Jr. issued a joint statement of support for Zeldin, of Shirley, praising him as an antidote to Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his tax and coronavirus policies.

"I think Lee has the combination of stature of accomplishment, national stature and name recognition, and the ability to rally the base and also secure the support of unaffiliated voters," Garcia said in a phone interview.

Cairo said he and Garcia thought it would be a good idea to show their support for Zeldin ahead of a meeting of Republican county chairs later this month in Albany, where it’s expected that hopefuls might show up.

"We would like him to run," said Cairo in a separate call. "We think he’d be a strong candidate and do a good job, and he’s a Long Islander, sort of a favorite son type."

Zeldin began exploring a run for governor as Cuomo faced accusations of sexual harassment that now are under investigation by independent prosecutors. The governor also is facing a federal probe of his handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes.

"New Yorkers are passionately, emotionally telling me, 'If you don’t run and you don’t win, I’m leaving,'" Zeldin said in a statement. "Many see this election as their last opportunity to restore New York to its full glory and change the direction of our state."

Also among those mentioned as possible Republican candidates to challenge Cuomo or another Democrat if he doesn’t run are that most recent Republican governor candidates — former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro — and Rep. Elise Stefaniak of Schuylerville.

Andrew Giuliani, a former Trump White House aide and son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said he plans to run for governor as well, the Washington Examiner reported Wednesday.

In the five weeks since Zeldin announced he was testing the waters for a run for governor, he has spoken with all 62 Republican county chairs and continues to do his due diligence before deciding on his next steps, Garcia said.

The joint announcement comes a day after Fox News reported that Zeldin visited former President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort last month. Trump has not made a public endorsement of any candidates.

"I can think of no other candidate who doesn’t have the last name of Trump that MAGA supporters are more excited about potentially running for governor in 2022 than Lee Zeldin," Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told Fox News.

Zeldin has closely allied himself with Trump and the conservative House Freedom Caucus. He defended Trump in both of his impeachment trials and voted for objections to President Joe Biden's certified electoral votes after Trump supporters' deadly riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

His ties to Trump could make it more difficult to win next year in a reliably Democratic state that hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002.

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