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What Ark. and N.Y. Have in Common

Wed, 11/17/2021 - 18:47


No disrespect intended, but it is startling nonetheless that New Yorkers could look to the race for Arkansas governor for insight on the politics of our own state. In a recent CNN op-ed about Sarah Sanders, the former White House spokeswoman, Chris Cillizza observed, “The insight we can now glean with more than five months of hindsight is that in Arkansas, at least, there is simply no room for a candidate offering any sort of alternative to Trumpism within the G.O.P.” Mr. Cillizza, please add the Empire State to your list.

Lee Zeldin was a House of Representatives back-bencher until Donald Trump announced his bid for president. But, after he was among the first in Congress to hop aboard, his star rose. Loyal to the end, Mr. Zeldin argued against certifying Joe Biden’s legitimate victory and, even as the Jan. 6 attack was still being quelled, spoke on the House floor of “rogue election officials” to continue to cast doubt on the election. Mr. Zeldin also voted against creating a Jan. 6 commission to investigate the most serious breach of the Capitol since the War of 1812. And yet New York Republican challengers for governor fell over like so many dominoes when he announced that he was in it to win it.

Similarly, Ms. Sanders’s path to the State House was cleared last week when the Arkansas state attorney general ended her campaign for governor and instead started a bid for lieutenant governor. And the current lieutenant governor, who had also announced for the top post, jumped out of the race about a month after Ms. Sanders jumped in. Despite early campaign advantages, there was no way for either of them to keep up with Ms. Sanders, who quickly gained the ex-president’s blessing, Mr. Cillizza said. This is all strikingly similar to New York, where in April Mr. Zeldin was declared the front-runner by the state Republican chairman, who was swiftly followed by a majority of county-level G.O.P. conservative and Republican leaders.

Money matters a lot, and Mr. Zeldin’s national exposure, thanks mostly to Fox television, has paid off. Donations large and small have flowed his way from all over the United States, including as far away as Hawaii. In the most recent report, his campaign had more than $3.1 million on hand. Of his top 25 donors through July 15, who each contributed between $25,000 and $60,000, 11 were from out of state. His nearest competitor for the governor nomination, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s, financial support is almost entirely in-state; he has raised about half as much as Mr. Zeldin.

All politics is local used to be the rule. Now, for Republicans in Arkansas and New York at least, that old adage has been turned on its head.

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