Can Zeldin win?
Zeldin’s big day — hot, heavy, and a little haunted
Behind the big show, the hot passions and convention-time vows, and the cries of "Let’s go, Lee!" a sliver of doubt quietly haunted the room over whether the New York GOP can really pull off the victories in November envisioned over two days in Garden City.
Ever so cautiously, some partisans were willing to admit it.
"It’s gonna take a sea change — an earthshaking event," said a sober-minded veteran operative from Long Island, a backer of Rep. Lee Zeldin and ex-police commander Alison Esposito in the likely primaries ahead. "Lightning has to strike."
As surely as he won his endorsement with 85% of the weighted party committee vote, Zeldin seems destined to face primary challenges from maybe-not-so-marginal insurgents — Harry Wilson, Rob Astorino, and Andrew Giuliani.
That primary comes in June, more than four months before the general election. It leaves time for unexpected developments on either side of the aisle. Secure as he was of getting the endorsement, which he’s worked on for months, Zeldin just before the convention was reportedly making fervent calls to delegates to make sure of it.
The cases his rivals made for themselves from the rostrum Tuesday were based on the idea that a dalliance with them in the privacy of the voting booth, away from the party leadership, will rescue the party from a Zeldin disaster just like Zeldin promises to "rescue" the state.
"Zeldin has the support from people in the party," said a veteran ally associated with past GOP races. But in reality, he said, the expansion beyond the base will be crucial. "It will be tight" in the general election in a blue state.
After all, it’s been a 14-year losing streak for the party in all statewide races.
Giuliani, accompanied into the hall by his discredited, federally targeted father Rudy Giuliani and defeated mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa, asserted that in a recent Siena poll "I’ve been leading by double digits." His red-meat speech branding Gov. Kathy Hochul as "Crime Wave Kathy" kept delegates in their seats, politely applauding.
The long-ago NYC mayor’s son even gave a bit of attention-getting extreme talk by suggesting that mandatory masks might have caused children long-range damage having something to do with carbon dioxide. The pro-Zeldin operative said of the younger Giuliani: "All he’s done in his adult life is play golf and have a job with Trump."
The red meat was in abundance on all sides, following a narrative, in speech after speech, that demanded a belief that Democrats are presiding over a creeping New York dystopia of street disorder, high-level corruption, and government mandates — and that Republicans if elected will be saviors.
But the practicalities of these pitches will be tested.
Harry Wilson and upstate Assemb. Chris Tague, an acquaintance since age 16 who gave a nominating speech for him, pounded the prospect of Wilson having wider appeal than Zeldin. "The nomination must go to the candidate that can win!" Tague said.
Wilson’s brief against Zeldin was diplomatic and indirect. He reminded his audience how close he came, closer than any other statewide GOP candidate in a long time, to winning the one race he ran, challenging Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in 2010, falling just short.
More pointedly he said, as a businessman who can fund his own campaign, only "an outsider" like himself "can build a team to … transform the state." He stressed his fiscal bona fides, something few others in the room were talking about, blasting Democrats over spending at a moment when the state is flush with federal cash.
Astorino, who ran against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2014, was less diplomatic and more direct. Asked if he thought Zeldin could win if nominated, he told the Point: "No." From the rostrum he emphasized his strength again — that he has won in two-and-a-half-to-one Democratic Westchester.
Earlier in the day Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman declared, "We’re not going to win unless Nassau and Suffolk pull out big numbers — and we’re backing Lee Zeldin." As if to answer that, Zeldin said in his speech that Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam — his strong areas — will be key to a GOP victory, and that he’d win Long Island as well.
Nominating Astorino, Assemb. Michael Lawler from Pearl River cited a diversity of racial ethnic support. "It’s not enough to talk to the base and yell MAGA," Lawler said.
Thanking the big ballroom, Zeldin, whose MAGA loyalties are unshaken, began speaking of the need to appeal to Democrats disenchanted by the direction of criminal justice and school policies. For that crossover support, the eventual nominee will need a conviction among Democrats that the incumbents are corrupt, extreme and anti-freedom.
Zeldin prodded the crowd: "Are we ready to win?"
— Dan Janison @Danjanison
Flynn endorses on Long Island
Cait Corrigan, who is running as a Republican against incumbent Rep. Andrew Garbarino for the party’s nod in CD2, received an endorsement from an unlikely source this week, former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
"We need someone who’s bold and an America First Patriot," the letter from Flynn said. "The people of Long Island now have their champion to unseat failure and do-nothing RINO, Andrew Garbarino, Cait Corrigan."
This endorsement comes with multiple complications, however. Perhaps the most significant: The prominent critic of vaccination is not the only CD2 contender with a nod from Flynn.
Robert Cornicelli, a radio presence and veterans advocate, has now shifted over to run in CD2 rather than his planned bid in CD1. And Cornicelli, a veteran and fiery Trump-wing Republican, also had received Flynn’s endorsement back in September.
He is a St. James resident who was among those screened for the GOP endorsement in CD1, but the party ended up going with Suffolk County Legislature chief of staff Nick LaLota. Meanwhile, the post-Census redistricting made CD2 a much redder district, in some ways more amenable to Cornicelli, who works as a Town of Oyster Bay sanitation inspector supervisor.
Hints of Cornicelli’s move were apparent last week. Some CD2 residents reported getting phone calls for a poll asking questions about Garbarino and a challenger with a military background.
On Tuesday, Cornicelli sent a release announcing the shift and criticizing Garbarino for having "given up true Republican values."
There’s plenty to sort out in this newly hot primary.
That includes what ends up happening with Flynn’s endorsement. Cornicelli campaign manager Lawrence Bialek says "we’re in talks with General Flynn" about the subject. Corrigan was honored by Flynn’s nod, according to a staffer, who added: "We look forward to having his full support in our race, in our efforts to unseat Andrew Garbarino."
Then there are the recent attacks on Corrigan’s deep red bona fides, as a published report noted she was registered as a Democrat and that she once volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Corrigan told The Point that she switched her registration last year and previously was a "conservative Democrat" who voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020. She also noted that her volunteer work for Clinton, which was featured in a Newsday story at the time, came when she was 10. https://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/patchogue-girl-may-be-ny-s-youngest-clinton-worker-1.880698)
In his letter endorsing Corrigan, Flynn flicked at the "stolen 2020 election" — referring to the false claim that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 presidential race. Corrigan said she agreed with that view.
Noting that last fall Trump had specifically sought challengers to Garbarino, Corrigan said she "would be honored" to have the former president’s endorsement.
But with two Trump Republicans now in the CD2 race, perhaps the question is whom Trump might choose now.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall and Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
A red alliance
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Strike one potential candidate from the long CD3 list: Former Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos tells The Point that he won’t enter the Democratic primary for the congressional seat being vacated by Tom Suozzi after all.
Previously, Maragos had polled the newly designed district and told The Point that the results showed there was no front-runner.
"I believe there are already good moderate candidates in the race," he wrote in a Monday email.
Indeed, further evidence of that assessment came Tuesday morning, with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s endorsement for his deputy, Jon Kaiman.
Kaiman’s candidacy has been a bit quieter than those of some of his opponents, but the nod from his boss could be a real boost: Bellone will be doing "a fundraising event with me, where he’ll be the keynote," Kaiman told The Point, and the two Democrats already spent some time together talking to voters and collecting signatures in the cold Tuesday morning.
As for that "moderate" label, Kaiman certainly falls in: The former North Hempstead Town supervisor has called for Albany to "revisit" its changes to bail, says that many New Yorkers "are concerned about the Democrats’ commitment to public safety," and suggests that he’s the right person to balance social justice and crime concerns given his co-chairship of the Suffolk County Police Reform & Reinvention Task Force.
He’s not alone in the lane, which includes Nassau County Legis. Josh Lafazan, who has backed controversial pro-law enforcement legislation and who switched from a blank voter to Democrat late last year.
There’s also a brewing battle for the more left-leaning mantle in CD3: Progressive activist Melanie D’Arrigo on Tuesday nabbed the endorsement of Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders-legacy group that boosts progressive candidates. D’Arrigo challenged Suozzi from the left in 2020 and has steadily chalked up other left-leaning endorsers for her bid this year, even before the new district lines allowed the entry of State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who may have competed for the same names. The Pelham Democrat has emphatically supported the state criminal justice reform movement and was the 2018 slayer of Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein.
Public relations executive and Democratic National Committee member Robert Zimmerman has a claim on this lane as well: He has highlighted his advocacy work on LGBTQ+ and other issues and notched a wide range of endorsements, including from Liuba Grechen Shirley, who tried a deep-blue challenge to Rep. Peter King in 2018.
Expect the lane-labels to only get sharpened and argued over more at the candidate forums, which have already begun for CD3.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano and Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli