EXCLUSIVE: Trump allies are quietly rallying their support behind Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, encouraging him to mount a GOP gubernatorial bid against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2022, Fox News has learned.
Sources familiar told Fox News that Zeldin, R-N.Y., met with former President Trump at Mar-a-Lago last month.
While Zeldin has not made a final decision about whether or not to get into the race, and while Trump has not made an endorsement, sources close to the former president said that Zeldin would be “a very strong candidate to help Republicans in 2022.”
“I can think of no other candidate who doesn’t have the last name of Trump that mega-supporters are more excited about potentially running for governor in 2022 than Lee Zeldin,” Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told Fox News.
Zeldin – a four-term congressman who represents the eastern half of New York’s Long Island, an attorney and an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve – was first elected to the Suffolk County congressional district in 2014. He was a staunch ally and defender of Trump during his four years in the White House.
“Zeldin believes in the rule of law, restoring New York’s economy, and he’ll fight the one party corruption in Albany that is causing so many New Yorkers to flee the state,” Miller said.
Miller explained that if Zeldin mounts a gubernatorial bid against Cuomo, he would be able to “run up numbers from his base in Long Island,” and also do well in upstate New York.
“Being one of the two Jewish Republicans in Congress, Lee has a great crossover appeal in New York City,” Miller added.
One person familiar with the matter told Fox News that “there are a lot of different people potentially looking to run,” but said that Trump allies are “pushing Zeldin,” saying “he would have a true shot at winning as a Republican.”
Another source told Fox News that the Trump world is “very supportive” and encouraging Zeldin to launch a campaign against Cuomo.
“He is on the right side of getting our businesses open, our schools open, and cleaning up the mess caused by Andrew Cuomo,” the source said.
While New York is a reliably blue state where Cuomo won reelection to a third term in 2018 by a massive 23-point margin, the governor has fallen under intense scrutiny, as 10 women have mounted allegations of sexual harassment against him, leading to an independent investigation by the state attorney general into the claims, and an impeachment investigation in the State Assembly.
Cuomo has vehemently denied the allegations against him, and has offered public support for the investigations into them.
Cuomo has also been politically wounded by the nursing home crisis, facing criticism after revelations that his administration concealed the full extent of nursing home-related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, New York State Conservative Party Chair Jerry Kassar told Fox News he is “urging” Zeldin to run.
“I know there is a great interest within the party,” Kassar told Fox News. “They like his background, love his record in Congress, and they are enthusiastic for him to make a final decision and go forward.”
Kassar told Fox News that he has had “conversations with Zeldin,” and said he is “asking the right questions in terms of how to put a race together, and how he would go about structuring a campaign.”
“We’ve been putting thoughts in his mind about what needs to be done,” Kassar said. “Everything, so far, has been very positive.”
In terms of how he would perform in the state, Kassar said Zeldin “would certainly have an appeal to Trump-strong areas within New York City,” like the 11th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island.
“He would have strength within Jewish constituencies, but also within most, if not all conservative constituencies within the city,” Kassar said. “We also believe he would have enormous appeal in Suffolk and Nassau counties—which are key suburbs.”
As for Democratic voters, Kassar said he believes that “people are finished with Cuomo, for both issue reasons, as well as the scandals.”
“Some individuals aren’t sure where they enter, but they have decided this should be his last term,” Kassar said, adding that he believes whoever is the Republican candidate for governor in 2022 will be “confronting a different Democratic candidate.”
“I personally think he has no ability to run for reelection, if he’s not impeached before,” Kassar said.
Among other New York Republicans considered potential gubernatorial contenders next year are Reps. Elise Stefanik, a rising star in the party and major Trump supporter who represents a district in the northern part of the state, and Tom Reed, a more moderate congressman who represents a district in the western end of New York.
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.