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How the governor's mansion can turn red in a blue New York

Daily Point

These are numbers Zeldin or the GOP standard bearer would have to put on the board

It’s an uphill climb for any Republican to win a contest for governor in New York but with the oddsmakers betting that Andrew M. Cuomo does not seek a fourth term, anything is possible.

Suffolk’s Rep. Lee Zeldin is out of the box early seeking the nomination and donations. Andrew Giuliani has tossed out his name, which is about all he has to offer, and while upstate Rep. Elise Stefanik is telling insiders she’d rather focus on climbing the ranks in the House of Representatives, she is keeping her options open and an eye on whether her fellow House member Zeldin gets any traction.

A Stefanik press release Thursday threw a brush-back pitch at Zeldin saying she wouldn’t make a decision based on the timetables of others. "Congresswoman Stefanik continues to receive encouragement from all corners of the state as she would immediately be the strongest Republican candidate in both a primary and general gubernatorial election," said Alex deGrasse, one of her political advisors. "She continues to set records as the most prolific New York Republican fundraiser ever in state history consistently earning the strongest performance at the ballot box cycle after cycle on Election Day," the statement continued.

Stefanik is a strong supporter of Donald Trump but she doesn’t give Democrats the arsenal of video footage praising the polarizing former president that Zeldin would. Yet one Long Island elected official and Zeldin advocate predicted that a negative reaction to Trump "would be ancient history" by next year. Zeldin, who visited with GOP lawmakers in Albany last month to gauge their support, is considered by many to be a stronger candidate than Stefanik and past GOP gubernatorial candidates with county executive credentials like Rob Astorino and Marc Molinaro.

But business leaders and more establishment Republicans think differently, believing anyone closely aligned with Trump can’t win in the state. Appalled by the tone of the "tax the rich" left and concerned the next mayor may not be able to bring New York City back to life, big donors are calling around for volunteers. Many of them.

One prominent Republican took just such a call from a major GOP donor wanting to gauge his interest. He said some moderates and fresh names from the business world were holding back on exploring the race until it was clear Cuomo was out of the picture. "If Cuomo survives the investigations and has $20 million in the bank … he clears the field," he said. Prospective GOP donors wouldn’t bet against Cuomo.

But if Cuomo doesn’t run, Republicans would have to find a candidate with a profile that can draw enough votes in every part of a very blue New York to snatch the governorship. The Point turned to political strategist Bruce Gyory, who shared his research on what numbers would have to be put up on the board.

According to Gyory’s calculations (for a race with only two major nominees), the GOP candidate would have to win 60% of the vote upstate and 57% of the vote in Westchester and Rockland and on Long Island. In NYC, that bar for a Republican would be 29% in a low turnout election and more like 32-34% in a high turnout race.

Democrats, or at least Cuomo, have gotten about 45% of the upstate vote in the last several cycles but it’s not clear whether any other Democrat can repeat that with the exception of Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is from Buffalo. The vote in that part of the state is conceded to the GOP. But Republicans have not carried the close-in suburbs since Pataki in 2002, and Zeldin’s strength has not been tested on Long Island outside of his eastern Suffolk district.

But NYC is the decider, and Republicans haven’t hit 25% there since Michael Bloomberg won a second term as mayor in 2005. Earlier, the elder Giuliani did so, too. To hit those margins in NYC today, a GOP candidate would need to win 40% of the Jewish vote, which Zeldin could do, while also snaring 40% of both the Hispanic and Asian electorate.

Republicans concede that regardless of their candidate, the key to their success is the Democratic party imploding. If the Democrats nominate someone like Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has said he would not rule out a run, the GOP is ready to start measuring the curtains in the Albany mansion.

—Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli

Talking Point

Zeldin gets over a million on day one

The real action that heralded Rep. Lee Zeldin’s entry into the governor’s race Thursday was the registration of a "Zeldin for New York" state campaign account.

That’s separate from his "Zeldin for Congress" federal account and comes with some key differences: There are more restrictions about who can give what on the federal level than on the state level. Corporations, for example, can give directly to state campaigns in New York, but can’t do the same for federal office-seekers. And the state’s individual contribution limits and loopholes are wildly different.

That means you can’t just transfer your state money into a federal account.

"The problem with doing that is contributions that are eligible to be made in the state are not necessarily eligible to be made federally," said election expert Jerry Goldfeder.

The Point previously covered how federal regulations allow transfers in the other direction, subject to state laws. In New York, there’s a little murkiness about the issue, but taking federal money down to the state level has been tried before, and Zeldin has that option.

But to go in the uphill direction, a state candidate’s campaign would have to "refund its leftover funds to its contributors and may coordinate arrangements with the federal campaign for a solicitation of those same persons," Federal Election Commission Deputy Press Officer Christian Hilland told The Point.

That suggests it would take work for Zeldin to move gubernatorial funds to his congressional account should he end up dropping, or failing, in his bid for the governor’s mansion.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have state money around if you want to be a powerbroker in New York down the line. Zeldin would have to raise money fast to rival the millions of dollars in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s war chest. Zeldin spokeswoman Katie Vincentz said he raised $1 million on the first day of his gubernatorial bid — Thursday — not including transfers or donations from LLCs or PACs.

But don’t hold your breath for a look at the actual filings for that new state campaign account. The first disclosure statement is due July 15.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Stop the chaos

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Final Point

High speed rail advocates hold out hope for line through Long Island

President Joe Biden’s initial version of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan didn’t include the North Atlantic Rail effort – a $105 billion plan to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast corridor between Boston and New York, with stops on Long Island.

In fact, it didn’t include high speed rail at all.

But proponents of North Atlantic Rail aren’t deterred.

"I’ll grant you that at any other time, this would be a pipe dream," said advocate Dave Kapell, who’s working on the project through the Right Track for Long Island Coalition, which was initially formed to promote the East Side Access effort to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal. "But this is a moment for dreams and this is a big one."

The North Atlantic Rail project would utilize existing rail lines and new connections to build a rail line that would travel from Penn Station into Queens and Long Island, potentially stopping at Belmont Park, the Nassau Hub, Republic Airport, Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook, before heading under the Long Island Sound into Connecticut. The trip from New York City to Boston would take 100 minutes.

Kapell said supporters now are working to get on board Congressional representatives from the seven states that would be impacted by the project.

Robert Yaro, the former president of the Regional Plan Association, noted that plenty of large-scale infrastructure efforts – like Second Avenue Subway, or giving the LIRR a berth at Grand Central – have had ups and downs before moving forward.

"We’re persistent people," said Yaro. "I’ve been involved in a number of high-wire acts, multi-billion dollar efforts. They almost inevitably start with people telling you, ‘That’ll never happen.’ You just have to be persistent and keep plugging away."

Yaro said the team behind North Atlantic Rail was "a little surprised" that the words "high-speed rail" weren’t included in the initial infrastructure plan.

"There are efforts going on now to rectify that situation," Yaro said.

Kapell said the supporters of the project have met with representatives from Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Lab, who are supportive, and have spoken with congressional representatives from Long Island, including Reps. Tom Suozzi and Lee Zeldin.

Of course, there are plenty of others seeking public transit infrastructure dollars in the region and across the country. It’s likely the White House, Congress, and U.S. Department of Transportation head Pete Buttigieg will hear from them all as everyone fights for a piece of the final plan.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall