Polling and campaign finance disclosures have highlighted in recent weeks what has been apparent for quite a while: The 2022 Republican primary for governor remains very much up in the air.
Putative front-runner Rep. Lee Zeldin has a regular presence on right-wing cable and widespread support from party leaders, but poll after poll has highlighted how such advantages have not translated into widespread name recognition among GOP voters. Former Westchester Executive Rob Astorino and Andrew Giuliani (son of Rudy) are looking to take advantage in the run-up to a state convention in February. The newly-announced campaign of businessman Harry Wilson injects additional uncertainty into the race.
The GOP faces long odds winning their first statewide election in two decades. Hochul has polled well since becoming governor, and her record fundraising haul shows the powers of incumbency in action. Former President Donald Trump still casts a long shadow on the Republican Party, particularly for those like Zeldin, who supported Trump in attempting to overturn the 2020 election results. GOP leaders, however, remain bullish that the scandals that helped drive former Gov. Andrew Cuomo from office might help Republicans this November.
Here is a roundup of the Republicans running for governor this year, last updated on Feb. 22.
Rep. Lee Zeldin
The four-term member of Congress appears to be the person to beat by default. Recent endorsement from fellow Long Island officials underscore his support from party insiders and his multimillion dollar warchest puts him on much more solid ground than other candidates. Name recognition remains a big challenge in the months ahead given how new polling shows that most GOP voters have never heard of him despite his widespread campaigning across the state. So his current lead might just end up being an electoral mirage.
Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli
Keeping the peace in the fourth-least populated county in New York has evidently not connected Carpinelli to a network of deep-pocketed donors. A January financial disclosure shows that he has $663 bucks on hand after raising less than $20,000 overall. Some GOP voters might like his opposition to public health restrictions and recent defense of a Capitol rioter, but they got other choices with seemingly better chances of actually winning.
Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino
The fourth time might be the charm for Astorino after losing his last three bids for elected office. He has received lots of five-figure checks from political donors in recent months, but has about a fourth of the money Zeldin has for the upcoming campaign. He also has lower name recognition among registered voters, Republicans and suburbanites alike. His (mostly) pre-Trump experience as a local leader does not appear to be catching much attention online either.
The 36-year-old son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has had an interesting few months on the campaign trail. He has discussed the daddy issues behind his longshot bid and spun how his past gig as a presidential golf buddy made him the “quarterback” of COVID-19 relief programs last year. Curtis Sliwa, the 2021 GOP candidate for New York City mayor, has endorsed him, but Giuliani has raised less than $90,000 in recent months and polling shows his family name hardly guarantees universal recognition.
The obscure podcast host offers Republicans on the far right a chance to support someone who is “proud” of the Proud Boys. That might not be enough to prevail against better-known, and better-funded GOP opponents, but his candidacy might make other candidates think again about how any hint of moderation might cost them votes in the primary.
Money is already proving to be a strength and a weakness for the millionaire businessman. A $12 million investment in his campaign gives him about twice as much money to spend compared to Zeldin in the months before the primary, but a $1,000 donation to newly-elected conservative bête noire Alvin Bragg, who Wilson met as an undergraduate at Harvard, is already inspiring talk about how his candidacy is dead on arrival with the political right. So Wilson might just prove to be the Michael Bloomberg of 2022 – except the questionable value of limitless money is being proven on the GOP side of the aisle this time around.
A former staffer to the now-septuagenarian Pataki is behind an effort to make him the first Republican to win statewide office since ... Pataki did it in 2002. There is a website and everything, but it will likely take more than that to convince the three-term governor to reenter politics. His dismal performance in the 2016 Republican presidential primary hardly inspires confidence that he has a second act as the savior of the New York GOP.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro
Marc Molinaro may still have ambitions for higher office, but his May endorsement of Zeldin means a 2022 gubernatorial run is not happening. While Molinaro was the GOP standard-bearer just four years ago, he would have faced an uphill battle against a MAGA man like Zeldin. The party is continuing to move to the right, and Molinaro’s departure from the race all but ensures that the Republicans will cede a lot of the political center despite how that limits their chances in November.
Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra
A lot of New York voters might like how Giambra campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016 alongside other moderate Republicans wary of electing Trump. But that is not going to go over well with Republican primary voters next year if Giambra ends up officially declaring his candidacy. His ill-fated campaign for the 2018 nomination seemingly confirmed that. There has been talk this spring of Giambra jumping into the race, but it does not appear to be happening.
Rep. John Katko
His vote for impeachment and reputation for being a political moderate make the Central New York Congress member an odd fit in a party still defined by the former president. That is likely a key factor in the four-term incumbent demonstrating zero interest publicly in running for governor despite reported efforts by some party leaders to recruit him. Not running is probably a smart move considering the slim odds of beating the eventual Democratic nominee and the fact that Katko appears to be sick of politics in general, as evidenced by his decision to not seek reelection to the House.
Rep. Elise Stefanik
The North Country legislator has officially ruled out a run for the Second Floor. That only makes sense considering how busy she is maneuvering for a leadership post in the Trumpian House minority. In another world, her serious MAGA cred, fundraising abilities and name recognition could have potentially shoved Zeldin aside – but she would have to give up her congressional seat in the process. At least she didn’t pose as a daughter of the Adirondacks for nothing!
Rep. Tom Reed
The Southern Tier lawmaker promised constituents in 2010 that he would only serve six two-year terms in Congress. That time will be up at the end of 2022. “I will honor those commitments, and I will leave it to the public to make the decision as to where my future goes,” he told The Buffalo News. His current position as co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus would have given some basis to argue that he could be competitive in a general election. And unlike Stefanik and Zeldin, Reed would not have needed to explain a vote to overturn the Electoral College results hours after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. But Reed said he won’t be running for any office following an accusation of sexual misconduct from a former lobbyist.
Few people have done more to raise public awareness about COVID-19 nursing home deaths than a Fox News senior meteorologist who lost two in-laws to the pandemic. Her connection to the network most hated by Democrats would complicate any run for statewide office, but at least critics of the Canadian-born TV personality would not have to worry about her leveraging a campaign for a future White House run. Still, she has demonstrated no interest in running, despite her name getting thrown around.
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