Republican gubernatorial nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin faces an uphill battle in his “long shot” bid for New York’s top job — but political experts say he has a chance if he is laser-focused on specific areas and hot-button issues such as crime and inflation.
“Congressman Zeldin and Governor Hochul are now in a narrative war, and whoever wins it will win the election,” political consultant Bill O’Reilly told The Post in a text.
“To Zeldin, this race is about inflation, taxes, and crime. To Hochul, it’s about abortion, guns, and January 6. That’s all we’re going to be hearing from the candidates for the next four months,” O’Reilly, who backed former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in the GOP gubernatorial primary, added.
Incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul63, has campaigned heavily on her response to recent US Supreme Court decisions striking down the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision and a century-old New York state law limiting the carrying of concealed weapons.
Recent polls have found that a majority of New Yorkers support abortion access and gun control, however, it isn’t a sure-fire amid a backdrop of rising crime and skyrocketing inflation.
“If that was a winning formula, Terry McAuliffe would be governor of Virginia right now,” New York State GOP Chair Nick Langworthy said, referring to the 2021 win by Republican Glenn Youngkin in a state that had leaned left in previous elections.
Violent crime — which includes murder, rape, robbery and felony assault — is up more than 25% so far this year, compared to 2021, according to NYPD figures.
Such hot-button talking points could win over enough independents and even some Democrats who are looking for the state to make a change, Langworthy said.
“We have to get disaffected cross-over votes and that’s what’s happening when you have a situation like this. It’s eerily similar to 1994,” he explained, referring to former GOP Gov. George Pataki’s stunning victory over three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo.
But Zeldin’s kryptonite will be his conservative record in Washington, experts say.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly two to one in the Empire State — where independents also outnumber Republicans. The GOP has not won a statewide election in two decades.
“The icing on the case is Trump,” Democratic state Chair Jacobs said Wednesday.
The Long Island congressman, 42 — who voted against accepting the 2020 presidential results from two states – has been an outspoken supporter of the former president who remains unpopular in his home state.
“We will be able to demonstrate a strong contrast between New York values and what Lee Zeldin has done in Congress, whether it’s his support for the insurrectionists, whether it’s his [approach] to women’s rights, whether it’s his support for more guns than less guns,” Hochul told reporters Wednesday night.
So, in order to win, Zeldin will need commanding margins in New York City suburbs on Long Island, as well as in Westchester County, pundits say.
Overall in the Big Apple, the gubernatorial hopeful will need about a third of the vote across the five boroughs to beat out Hochul, a Buffalo native who succeeded disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo last August.
“While he’s a long shot, he’s not a no shot,” Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, told The Post.
“But the task of pulling off what would be the upset of this new century [in state politics] is undoubtedly daunting,” he added.