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Rep. Elise Stefanik’s promotion last week to chairwoman of the House Republican Conference didn’t just shake up Washington, D.C.
The move also has dramatic implications for New York’s 2022 gubernatorial race, where hungry Republicans are hoping to take on a scandal-scarred Andrew Cuomo and snatch away the same fourth term denied his father, Mario Cuomo, in 1994.
Upstate powerhouse Stefanik was mulling the idea of adding Cuo-slayer to her resume before being kicked upstairs by her colleagues. With her out of the picture, Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin now becomes the dominant force in the race.
“Lee is in a very strong position,” former upstate GOP Rep. John Faso told The Post, offering his early assessment of the race. “He’s gathered much early support.”
Zeldin doesn’t have a totally clear runway, but his potential primary opponents are now past Cuomo losers Rob Astorino and Marc Molinaro, and flashy neophytes like Andrew Giuliani.
Though neither are A+ scorecard conservatives, both Zeldin and Stefanik are pro-Trump die-hards. Stefanik became particularly appealing after the House GOP decided to boot Never Trump Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership role. Keeping a woman in the seat was important heading into the 2022 elections.
Zeldin was an enthusiastic supporter of Stefanik’s promotion. “Elise is a fierce fighter for her congressional district. She worked hard to elect more Republican women to the house. She would understand as conference chair it’s not about any one person,” he told The Post in the days before her elevation.
“He was certainly eager to see her embrace a chance to move up in House leadership and thus out of the running for the Republican nomination for governor,” one insider familiar with both Stefanik and Zeldin told The Post. “She has a lot of credibility and influence with country committees upstate and would have made it very hard for him to win statewide.”
Still, with more than a year to go before the party picks a nominee, anything can happen. Faso said Astorino, the former Westchester County executive, would be a strong candidate in a general election, and allies of Andrew Giuliani predict he would be an overwhelming favorite among city Republicans with Rudy-nostalgia.
“Andrew beats [Zeldin] 2 to 1 in the city. Outside of Long Island, nobody knows who Lee Zeldin is. He probably has better name ID in Iowa, thanks to Fox News,” said GOP consultant Rob Cole. “Giuliani has name ID, he will raise money, and he’s got balls. I think Andrew wins this primary.”
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