Since last fall, when controversy first began to grow around Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Elise Stefanik has regularly posted on social media calling the three-term incumbent “the WORST governor in America.”
Could the Republican congresswoman want the job? It’s quite possible, though any Republican candidate for governor is a long shot to win the state’s top job, given New York state’s Democrat-heavy voter makeup.
Cuomo is looking wounded by several scandals nearly two years ahead of the 2022 gubernatorial election. That has potential Republican challengers starting to emerge, and there’s at least some talk about the 36-year-old four-term incumbent from Saratoga County, who represents the North Country’s 21st Congressional District.
The congresswoman, who has raised her national profile in recent months with various appearances on conservative-oriented television news networks, isn’t discouraging such talk.
“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,” Alex DeGrasse, a senior advisor to Stefanik, said in a statement late last week.
“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,” DeGrasse continued. “She appreciates the widespread encouragement and is not ruling anything out — nor will she make her decision based on others’ timetables.”
Cuomo, who has so far resisted calls to resign though he faces investigations of his workplace conduct toward women and COVID-19-related issues, has not announced if he will run for a fourth term in 2022 — though before the recent scandals, he was widely expected to run again. With the state having more than twice as many enrolled Democrats as Republicans, a Republican hasn’t won statewide office since former Gov. George Pataki was last re-elected in 2002.
Still, the outlines of the potential Republican field in a governor’s race started to take shape last week.
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island’s First Congressional District, who was elected to Congress at the same time as Stefanik in 2014, announced Thursday that he planned to run. Andrew Guiliani, a former aide to President Donald J. Trump and son of former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani, said he was seriously interested.
Former Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, who was the Republican challenger to Cuomo in 2014, is also considered a potential 2022 candidate. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who was Cuomo’s unsuccessful challenger in 2018, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.
All those potential candidates have stronger recognition in more-populous downstate areas than Stefanik, who hails from a mostly rural district that has tended to vote conservative.
Zeldin is close in conservative ideology to Stefanik. Both are strong supporters of former President Donald J. Trump. Both voted against accepting the electoral college results ratifying President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. Trump’s claims of voter fraud — which he continues to repeat despite a lack of evidence of significant problems — led to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. But their alignment won’t necessarily keep both from running.
“Congresswoman Stefanik believes it is a testament to the strength of the Republican Party in New York that there are many other high-quality candidates running or considering running,” DeGrasse said.
Saratoga County Republican Chairman Carl Zeilman said he’s ready to back Stefanik, if she decides to run.
“Upstate New York and frankly voters across the state couldn’t be more excited at the fact that our superstar congresswoman is considering running against Andrew Cuomo,” he said. “Elise has the strongest chance to win and was one of the first people to stand up against Corrupt Cuomo and for the people of New York. She is a household name with a record of independent leadership and delivering results. We support Congresswoman Stefanik 100% on whatever decision she makes. Upstate New Yorkers and Saratoga county stand ready to work tirelessly to campaign for her.”
Stefanik, who was the youngest person ever elected to Congress when she first took office in 2014, formed a political action committee to get more Republican women involved and elected to Congress, and had significant success in the 2020 congressional election. The congresswoman also became a favorite of Trump’s after her sharp questioning of witnesses during the House Intelligence Committee hearings leading to Trump’s impeachment in late 2019.
Schenectady County Republican Chairman Chris Koetzle said he hadn’t previously heard of Stefanik as a potential candidate, but offered words of praise and said if she were to run, the Schenectady County Committee would give her serious consideration.
“Elise has always been a phenomenal representative of her district, she works very hard and I think her approach (to issues) comes from the right place,” he said. “She is someone we would look at very closely.”
The county chairman noted it is very early in the 2022 selection process. “The good news is that we have a lot of good candidates lining up,” Koetzle said.
Runs by either Stefanik or Zeldin will be complicated by the 2022 congressional redistricting, expected following release of the official 2020 U.S. Census numbers later this spring. It is widely anticipated that because other parts of the country are gaining population and New York isn’t, the state will lose one and potentially two congressional seats. That would force established congressional districts to be redrawn, and in general get geographically larger.
Stefanik lives in the town of Saratoga near the southern edge of the 21st district, which stretches from central Saratoga County to Canada, and is already among the geographically largest congressional districts east of the Mississippi.