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Tipsheet

Lee Zeldin May Still Hope to Hold Higher Office

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

Despite a hard-fought effort, former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) lost his race last November against Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY)--who likely only won because of New York City and how she has a "D" next to her name--to lead New York. He still managed to find electoral successes in carrying many Republican members of Congress in the state over the finish line, contributing to his party controlling the House. That gubernatorial race is not necessarily the end of the line for him, though. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is up for reelection next November, and she may face a challenge from Zeldin.

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According to POLITICO, Zeldin was at the state Capitol in Albany on Monday meeting with lawmakers when he was asked about the race. "We’ll keep an eye on the race," he said. "If we did run, it would be an extremely competitive race."

It may actually have been Gillibrand herself who has encouraged Zeldin to get in the race, given that she's fundraised off of the possibility, as POLITICO mentions:

He has since launched a federal PAC, raising questions about what he might do next.

That includes the possibility Zeldin will challenge Gillibrand as she seeks a third full term in the Senate in 2024. The two have publicly criticized each other in recent months, and Gillibrand has raised money off the possibility he might enter the race.

“It was something that I was giving no thought to, but she was trying to fundraise. And the best way to fundraise in the first quarter of 2023 was to speak about a viable opponent,” Zeldin said in an interview before joining former presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway at a dinner for the New York State Federation of Republican Women near Albany.

Zeldin said his main focus right now is helping out candidates for local office this year “who helped us during last year’s race.” He’s spent recent weeks traveling the state to campaign with the candidates “and that’s where the focus will remain” for the moment.

“We’ll see how the race shapes up,” he said of the possibility of challenging Gillibrand. But he acknowledged that “there’s even more of a Democratic-favored turnout” in a presidential election year than in a midterm like the one in which he led the GOP ticket in 2022.

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Although Zeldin lost to Hochul last November, he did come close, winning 47.13 percent of the vote to her 52.87 percent. Further, given Zeldin's electoral history of winning against Democratic incumbents, including against former Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) in 2014, a win against Gillbrand could be unlikely but still possible. He might also want to run against Hochul again for a rematch. 

While Zeldin entering the race might be a possibility, it's still only in the early stages, though:

“We feel it’s important to have a very strong total ticket next year,” state Conservative Party Chair Gerard Kassar said on Monday. “President and Congress obviously are going to be important, but we don’t intend to have a middle piece there that isn’t [a strong challenger].”

Kassar would be open to “anything that Lee is interested in in terms of elective office,” but he said he has not yet had serious conversations on a potential Zeldin candidacy for Senate.

Zeldin considered but ultimately forewent challenging RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel for her position, who was handily reelected in late January. He has since announced the Leadership America Leads PAC as well as more recently Zeldin Strategies. 

One person Gillibrand almost certainly won't be facing a challenge from is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who will run for reelection in her particularly Democratic district rather than primary the senator. POLITICO reported on Sunday that AOC was "not planning" to challenge Gillibrand, almost a month after they teased such a run in a glowing profile of the congresswoman. AOC also recently made news for her calling on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to resign due to her absence from shingles, something Gillibrand rejected the call to do during her recent Sunday show appearances.

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