Cuomo and Zeldin: A Battle with Shadows

Governor Andrew Cuomo is in trouble. Big trouble. And his political opponents smell blood in the Erie Canal and are circling. Against the backdrop of investigations into Cuomo’s special COVID-testing treatment for his family members and cronies, multiple accusations of sexual harassment, his manipulation of a state medical report, allegations of false statements to the federal government and obstruction of a federal investigation, his rivals to the New York Governorship are plotting their take over. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Source:
Lee Zeldin, who has represented New York’s 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives since 2015, is looking to unseat Cuomo, who has been the New York Governor for nearly a decade. And if money is an important indicator, which it almost always is, Zeldin is a serious contender, and Cuomo is waning. According to the New York Post

Campaign contributions to Gov. Andrew Cuomo plunged more than 40 percent amid his recent rash of scandals, official Board of Elections filings showed Friday — as his likely Republican challenger far outraised him in half the time. Cuomo raised less than $2.3 million during the six months that ended Sunday, compared to almost $4 million during the six months that ended Jan. 11, according to campaign finance documents posted online.

As revealed by Open Secrets, an organization that tracks “money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy,” Zeldin has raised $8,396,981, of which he has already spent $8,250,115. Open Secrets also shows Zeldin’s donors are primarily individuals, vs. Political Action Committees (PACs), are typically retired, and are strongly pro-Isreal in their political stances, making Zeldin a traditional, conservative Republican. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin, New York’s 1st congressional district Source:

But Zeldin’s appeal to the New York electorate is going to be problematic. To begin with, New York as a whole is decidedly democratic and liberal. As reported by

  • New York is the fifth-most liberal state in the U.S. 
  • 30% of voters identify as liberal in New York versus 27% who identify as conservative, 
  • a majority of upstate areas vote conservative, and the larger metro areas vote liberal.
  • 59% of voters voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election

Moreover, as reported by the Gotham Gazette, “As of April of this year, Democratic enrollment statewide stood at 6,201,033 registered voters, just over 50 percent of all registered voters in the state. There are 2,823,758 registered Republicans, 22.7 percent of all registered voters, and 2,644,155 people registered unaffiliated with any party, 21.3 percent of all registered voters.” 

Bruce Gyory, an attorney and Democratic political strategist unaffiliated with any campaigns, makes the argument that “Republicans have been defined by the national Republican brand, and that has really hurt them in New York State,” Gyory said. He noted that, in most instances, Republicans have no hopes of winning statewide unless they dominate the unaffiliated vote and capture roughly one-third of New York City. . .”

And for better or for worse, the Republican national brand is to a great degree, Donald Trump, who seems to be casting his political shadow over the Republican party, its voters, and even the media. 

A recent CNBC poll “. . .found 89 percent of voters without a college degree and 74 percent of Republicans want Trump to stay active in politics in some way. Almost half of Republicans (48 percent) want Trump to remain head of their party, while 11 percent want him to break away and start his own party. It’s that final figure that probably worries Republicans more than any other.”

Trump’s participation as the headline speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) reveals his currency and relevancy in the Republican party.  Given that CPAC also featured his son Donald Trump Jr. and a slew of Trump loyalists, including former Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and former Trump medical adviser Ronny Jackson of Texas, all signs point to a strong Trump affiliation for Republican voters.

In a recent interview with US News, Matt Terrill, a partner at Firehouse Strategies and former consultant to the Republican Party of Florida, stated, “A lot of folks in large part are waiting to see what the former president does. You can be a potential candidate out there running. But at the end of the day, they’re waiting out there on the sidelines and waiting to see what the former president does.”

Moreover, Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also seems to be able to keep his father relevant within the Republican base.  A recent article by Newsweek reported that “A recent poll from Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, a survey research and strategic consulting firm, found Trump Jr. was the most attractive Republican among GOP voters. His net favorability rating was double that of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and 25 times higher than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to Axios.” 

And it appears that this perception of the Trump shadow still darkens the doorway of liberal media outlets.

Stephen Collinson, writing for CNN, states, “Trump is not just popular at CPAC where the crowd greeted his speech with glee. That his populist extremism is now being implemented by GOP governors across states he won shows his enduring power. So do the countrywide efforts by Republican state lawmakers to restrict voting based on his lies about a stolen election. Trump’s capacity to orchestrate the behavior of Republicans is almost as intact as it was when he was sitting in the Oval Office — his derailing of a bipartisan, independent probe of the January 6 outrage is proof of that. All these are reasons why Trump cannot be just disregarded.” 

Yet, despite Trump’s appeal to certain segments of the population, he is apparently losing ground with other conservative elements. The inherent problem is for Zeldin is the increasing perception of Trump as a negative political entity, as the proverbial “fly in the ointment,” especially as it relates to independent or centrists voters. A recent NBC poll found “Even Trump’s pull within his own party appears to have lessened, with 44 percent of Republicans saying they’re more supporters of Trump than the GOP, versus 50 percent who say they’re more supporters of the GOP than the former president.”

And the biggest fly in the ointment is Trump’s association with his claims of voter fraud in the Presidential election as well as the January 6 capitol riots. A Pew Center Research poll found the following patterns among American voters:

“Among Trump voters, views of his conduct since the election reveals splits within the Republican coalition – particularly along educational and ideological lines. Trump voters with a four-year college degree or more education generally hold a negative view of Trump’s post-election conduct; 60% rate it only fair or poor. Just after the election, fewer than half (40%) expressed a negative view of his conduct.”  Pew also found that “a growing majority of voters (76%) say Donald Trump’s conduct since the Nov. 3 election is ‘only fair’ or ‘poor,’” down 8 percentage points from November 2020.

In a political landscape in which independent voters increasingly hold more sway, especially in tight elections, associating yourself with Trump may be bad news. As reported in The Blaze, “Independent voters went for Biden in 2020, 52% to Trump’s 43%. This represents a substantial gain for Democrats over 2016, when Clinton and Trump very nearly split the independent vote evenly, 42%-43%.”

For his part, Zeldin appears to have been a true-blue Trump supporter, taking to Twitter to say, “Thank you to the president for his efforts to defeat MS-13 in my district.” Zeldin is also closely associated with Donald Trump Jr., who attended one of Zeldin’s fundraisers. He was also a staunch defender of Trump during the former President’s impeachment trials and supported not certifying the Presidential election results of Arizona and Pennsylvania.  But what may ultimately sink his political aspirations is his view of the January 6 capitol riots. Here is what Zeldin had to say to Congress about that disturbing incident: 

I, as a member, sit here listening to the entire debate, desperately need to better understand the two standards that are at play in this house. Why is it okay if a House Democrat calls for violence in the streets, but not if you’re a Republican? Why can a House Democrat be rewarded with a gavel and a chairmanship if they’re calling for physical confrontation of a Trump administration official but they will be punished if they’re a Republican? The double standards that we have seen time and time again, we all — I need to better understand what the rules are of this House.

Zeldin may very well be right about some of those claims. American’s watched in collective horror as our cities burned in the wake of violence precipitated by the murder of George Floyd, even as they had not fully recovered from video of Floyd’s life being extinguished.

And even though President Biden condemned these acts of urban violence, one cannot help but see the symbolic significance of our Capitol building, an emblem of democracy and order, fall into chaos and disarray. Zeldin may even have stances, such as diminishing gang violence, or fiscal conservatism that warrant merit. However, unless Cuomo’s shadows of his scandals grow so long and dense they obscure his appeal to moderate voters, Zeldin’s association with the Trump shadow may leave him in darkness on election day, should he make it past the Republican primary. 



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