Rep. Lee Zeldin officially won the backing of the state Republican Party at its nominating convention on Tuesday, considered by most a foregone conclusion well before the convention began. “We haven’t won anything yet, it’s on Nov. 8 that we’re going to save our state,” Zeldin said to applause. “And I humbly, enthusiastically, proudly accept your endorsement to be your next governor.” But despite the official stance from party officials, the race is far from over as other declared candidates made spirited appeals to party members to support their campaigns.
Unsurprisingly, Zeldin received the warmest reception when he addressed committee members for the first time before the vote, his pathos-heavy speech interrupted several times by raucous applause that drowned out his shouted words. “We’re going to win this race because we have to win this race,” Zeldin said. “This is a rescue mission to save our state that will be successful.” At the close of his roughly ten-minute speech, which featured heavy criticism of the Democrats in control of the state and their policies on issues like criminal justice reform, Zeldin received a standing ovation.
The Long Island member of Congress went into the convention already considered the presumptive nominee after racking up the support of most of nearly all the county party leaders around the state. He’s the only candidate to have announced a running mate, Alison Esposito, who also received the state GOP’s official designation on Tuesday. Although the late entrance of businessman Harry Wilson spurred rumors that he could receive enough support to get from committee members to get on the ballot, Zeldin dominated the final vote with over 85%.
But the other candidates, three of whom sought the Republican designation, offered no indication that they would let the party’s decision stop them. “We expect this to have been pre-baked,” Andrew Giuliani told City & State before the committee vote. “We’re going to continue to push to make sure that three million registered Republicans – not just just a couple people in a beautiful hotel in Garden City or a backroom in Albany – have a say over the process.” He was accompanied by his father, former New York City Mayor and former Donald Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who said he’d be on the campaign trail for his son. He even signed a petition in front of reporters. “He’s also a great candidate, have you seen him?” the elder Giuliani said. “I mean, I know candidates.”
Giuliani and Zeldin both boast close ties to Trump – a connection with debatable positive impact in New York where Trump remains deeply unpopular – making a potential endorsement one major unknown in the upcoming primary. Zeldin said that while he spoke with the former president recently, he would not comment on whether he might weigh in on the race. Giuliani gave similar remarks to City & State on Tuesday. But the elder Giuliani offered his own opinion on the matter. “I believe that President Trump will stay neutral, as a Republican president generally should when people are in it who have support,” he told reporters.
Late entrant Wilson also made his case to voters at the convention after officially announcing his campaign just last week. He told reporters that had he decided to get into the race sooner, he expected that he would have received the party designation on Tuesday instead of Zeldin. A day earlier, state Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy said that he had spoken with Wilson about the prospect of running last year as the party sought a candidate. “I think, based on the reaction I’ve gotten from delegates, it’s clear that I would have been the first choice,” Wilson told reporters. He said that he would begin petitioning “legally… at the first possible minute,” although the signature gathering process officially kicked off that same day. Candidates aside from Zeldin will need to collect 15,000 signatures by April 7 to get on the ballot.
Wilson also got a fiery nomination speech from Assembly Member Chris Tague, in contrast to the candidate’s more reserved address that focused on his background, outsider status and message of fixing the state. “I can tell you that we have the opportunity today to select one of the smartest, most capable individuals we have ever had run for governor in a very long time,” Tague yelled into the microphone. “Frankly, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of losing.” Although Wilson himself did not receive a standing ovation, Tague rallied the crowd on his behalf.
Meanwhile, former Westchester Executive Rob Astorino, who previously ran for governor against then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014, and his surrogates made their case about the strength of that previous campaign as evidence that he has the chops to take on Gov. Kathy Hochul this year.
With Zeldin as the official Republican Party nominee for governor, the other three leading candidates now must petition their way onto the ballot in order to participate in the primary. Although the candidates themselves welcomed the competition from each other, Langworthy was not so upbeat about the upcoming primary battle. “Self interest is what self interest is,” the party chair told reporters on Monday, after emphasizing the amount of support Zeldin has received. “There are other candidates that think they are the best candidate and the one destined to be governor, and we’ll see what the process happens after we leave here.”