New York politics is nothing if not the land of the unexpected. Consider Kathy Hochul, who became governor after a seemingly bulletproof Andrew M. Cuomo was forced to resign amid a massive sexual harassment scandal. Now add to that her election challenger this year, Lee Zeldin, a back-bencher in Congress who rode his unwavering support of Donald Trump to a Republican primary win this week.
Mr. Cuomo may have underestimated Ms. Hochul when he chose her as his running mate for his 2014 gubernatorial campaign. She had been Erie County clerk before winning a special election in May 2011 to fill a seat in Congress that had been vacated in yet another romantic scandal, this involving Representative Chris Lee, who had carried on a steamy extramarital dalliance over email with a woman he met on Craigslist. Ms. Hochul’s time in Washington ended abruptly after the 2012 election, which she lost to Christopher Collins. (Mr. Collins was the first sitting member of the House of Representatives to endorse Mr. Trump for president. That early support may have gained him a presidential pardon after his 2019 guilty plea in an insider-trading investigation.) As Mr. Cuomo’s backup, she served in a mostly ceremonial role, but since taking over as governor, Ms. Hochul had shown her mettle, both as a leader and fund-raiser.
Mr. Zeldin, too, was an early Trump backer and had an advantage over his primary opponents in his frequent appearances on right-wing television in support of the president. This exposure helped cement him as the front-runner in the New York Republican primary from about the day he announced his intention to run for governor. In Tuesday’s four-way race, he took 44 percent of the vote, with Andrew Giuliani, the next nearest candidate, taking 23 percent. Other than his frequent face-time on Fox News, Mr. Zeldin’s political career so far has been mostly notable in that he was among those in Congress repeating the lies about Mr. Trump’s 2020 loss to Joe Biden. His domination of the primary vote is a testament at least in part to his choice to align himself with the former president.
From our perspective, having watched Mr. Zeldin from early in his political career, he would make an unusual governor for New York, given his conservative views and preference for tightly controlled settings. As a First District congressman, he shied away from town hall-style events, instead feeling most comfortable at small gatherings of like-minded supporters. Similarly, he has been all but inaccessible to the news media in our region, turning down or simply not responding to requests for interviews. He has no great accomplishments in Congress to point to. Nor has Mr. Zeldin been able to gain national attention despite his unwavering devotion to Mr. Trump’s lies; he has remained in the shadows cast by other nutty-right representatives, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan.
With Republicans trailing registered Democrats and independent voters in New York State, Ms. Hochul does not appear to face much of a challenge. But in the Empire State anything can — and often does — happen.