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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

A reality check for NY Republicans

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks to reporters during President

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks to reporters during President Trump's impeachment trial in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 29, 2020. Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Erik S. Lesser

New York Republicans can almost taste the governor’s mansion.

Andrew Cuomo will have served three terms by Election Day 2022; only two of New York’s 56 governors have won a fourth — Nelson Rockefeller (1959-73) and George Clinton (1777-95).

Cuomo, moreover, is significantly weakened by allegations of sexual harassment, concealing the number of nursing home residents who died in hospitals, and using state resources to pen a book that reportedly earned him about $5 million. All three are being investigated by an attorney general from his own party.

It gets even better for the GOP.

Democrats now control both houses of the State Legislature, so any public unhappiness with Albany can be hung squarely around their necks. Progressives within the party arguably increase the advantage for Republicans with unpopular proposals, such as a 55-cent-per-gallon tax hike on gasoline, and controversial actions, such as making $2.1 billion available to undocumented New Yorkers for pandemic-related loss of income. Growing gun violence following bail reforms shouldn’t help Democrats, either.

Even if Cuomo decides not to run — or is defeated in a primary — Republicans will be in the best position in years to recapture New York’s executive office. Such a primary would cause serious tumult among state Democrats, and odds are that any Democrat defeating Cuomo would be positioned to his left.

But for a Republican to win statewide — and this is the whole ball of wax — a sizable number of Democrats would have to cross over on Election Day. There are 6.7 million registered Democrats in New York currently, and only 2.9 million Republicans (3 million registered voters haven't chosen a party). When George Pataki narrowly defeated Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994’s "Republican Revolution," for context, there were 4.7 million Democrats in New York State — 2 million fewer than today — and slightly more Republicans, around 3 million.

With that in mind, it’s surprising to see party officials coalescing around the Republican candidate most likely to be anathema to New York Democrats next year. Rep. Lee Zeldin, an affable young conservative who has served honorably in the military, has been endorsed by around 60% of New York Republican county leaders to date. They can't be looking at the state registration numbers. That early support may dissuade additional candidates from entering the race, and it's still so early.

Zeldin's Achilles’ heel is his vote to block certification of the 2020 presidential election. It’s likely a poison pill for moderate Democrats who might otherwise be willing to cross over and support the right Republican. Zeldin already realizes this. He recently told Newsday he won’t call President Biden’s election "illegitimate." But his vote did, and Democratic admakers won’t forget it. (Note: I've worked for two former Republican gubernatorial candidates, Marc Molinaro and Rob Astorino, who have also put their names forward in the 2022 race. I have no involvement in their current campaigns.)

Ironically, it’s Zeldin’s vote for the "Big Lie" that makes him so appealing to Republican leaders who seek the purest Trump cheerleaders as candidates to appeal to the GOP base. Zeldin’s vote to cast Rep. Liz Cheney out of her congressional leadership position last week should only endear him to them more.

That would make an awful lot of sense if this were Alabama. It’s not. It’s deep, deep blue New York.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.

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