Zeldin wins GOP primary to challenge Hochul for governor in November

Rep. Lee Zeldin, the four-term congressman who has represented Riverhead and the North Fork, defeated three challengers Tuesday to win the Republican nomination for governor.

The Associated Press called the race at 10:30 p.m. at a point where unofficial results from the New York State Board of Elections showed Mr. Zeldin with 41% of the vote and about 50% of districts reporting. As of Wednesday morning, with 97% of districts reporting, Mr. Zeldin had secured 43.5% of the vote.

Mr. Zeldin, of Shirley, will challenge Gov. Kathy Hochul in November’s general election after Ms. Hochul ran away with the Democratic primary.

Supporters of Mr. Zeldin, who was nominated by the Republican party in March, were gathered at the Coral House in Baldwin Tuesday evening, where the celebration unfolded. Mr. Zeldin, who had been the presumptive favorite in the race, defeated Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York City mayor; Harry Wilson, a former state comptroller; and Rob Astorino, a former Westchester County executive.

“This November, in the state of New York, one-party rule will end,” Mr. Zeldin said as he began a victory speech to rousing cheers.

“This is a rescue mission to save our state and losing is not an option,” he added.

Unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections showed Mr. Zeldin had won nearly 76% of votes in Suffolk County.

Mr. Zeldin, who has the backing of the Conservative party as well, has campaigned on issues such as public safety – particularly repealing the bail reform laws passed in 2020 — cutting taxes, reforming the government and establishing term limits, and improving education by ending “all indoctrination and brainwashing,” according to his campaign site.

He touched on some of those topics in his speech, describing a state that residents are fleeing because they don’t feel safe and believe their dollars can go further elsewhere. A frequent critic of the statewide COVID measures since the pandemic began, Mr. Zeldin vowed to end any COVID mandates and said it should be a personal choice whether to receive a vaccine. He pushed to resume extraction of natural gas in New York after the state Department of Environmental Conservation banned a process known as hydraulic fracturing in 2015. It has already been on hold dating back to 2008 due to environmental concerns. Mr. Zeldin focused much of his speech on attacking Ms. Hochul, saying the governor was “in over her head” and is a “walking identity crisis.”

“Kathy Hochul will get fired and we’ll restore balance and common sense to Albany again,” he said.

Mr. Zeldin formally announced his campaign in April 2021, at a time when the controversy around former Gov. Andrew Cuomo was growing. At the time, the Mr. Zeldin’s campaign was centered on doing “everything he can to make sure Mr. Cuomo doesn’t get a fourth term,” a spokesperson had said.

It took only five more months for Mr. Cuomo’s chances at a fourth term to evaporate. He resigned in August 2021 amid escalating allegations of sexual misconduct, opening the door for Ms. Hochul to become the state’s first woman governor.

Mr. Zeldin served two terms in the New York State Senate beginning in 2010 before defeating Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop in 2014 in his second bid for Congress. He went on to win reelection from 2016 to 2020, becoming a close ally of President Trump and fully backing the MAGA movement.

Mr. Zeldin was one of 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election, even after a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, which is the focus of ongoing Congressional hearings on the events of Jan. 6.

To win November’s general election, Mr. Zeldin would seemingly still face an uphill battle, as New York generally leans Democratic in statewide elections. Voter turnout for Tuesday’s Democratic primary nearly doubled that of the Republicans, according to the unofficial results. Ms. Hochul had received more than 574,000 votes with about 96% of districts reporting in her three-way race. More than 863,000 votes had been counted. In the GOP race, Mr. Zeldin had received about 193,000 of the approximately 443,000 votes cast in the four-way race.

Ms. Hochul was declared the winner Tuesday night just about a half-hour after the polls closed. She defeated two challengers: Thomas Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, and Jumaane Williams, a former councilman in New York City.

“I’m deeply honored to be the Democratic nominee for Governor of New York,” Ms. Hochul tweeted at 9:51 p.m. “On to November!”

In her victory speech, Ms. Hochul said, “To the women of New York, this one’s for you.”

She said it has been the “highest honor of her life” to serve as governor the past 10 months. She spoke about gun safety measures that were passed during her tenure, “historic investments in public education” and added protections passed to secure abortion rights, an issue that figures to become prominent in the governor’s race after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“New York State is a safe harbor for America’s women,” she said.

Ms. Hochul will run for governor alongside Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, who won the separate race for the second in command post. He defeated two challengers. Mr. Delgado became the lieutenant governor after Brian Benjamin, who had been picked by Ms. Hochul when she became governor, resigned following an indictment on bribery and fraud charges.