Representative Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican and avid supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, declared on Thursday that he was entering the 2022 race for governor of New York, hoping to emerge as his party’s challenger to the embattled Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“The bottom line is this: To save New York, Andrew Cuomo’s gotta go,” Mr. Zeldin, a staunch conservative who represents parts of Long Island, said in a news release.
Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, is in the midst of the greatest crisis of his political life, facing investigations and accusations of sexual harassment. Many of the state’s Democratic leaders have asked him to resign, and whether he will ultimately run for re-election next year is an open question.
But any Republican, especially one closely tied to Mr. Trump, would face an extraordinarily uphill battle running statewide in New York. And there is no doubt about how deeply Mr. Zeldin has embraced Mr. Trump and his politics, including by voting to overturn the results of the November election, a stance that would instantly disqualify him in the eyes of many voters should he make it to a general election.
Republicans have not won a statewide election in New York since 2002, and Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one. Many of the state’s Democrats have moved further to the left since then, and the suburbs — which Mr. Zeldin’s supporters say would be a vital part of his base — are no longer Republican strongholds, either.
Mr. Trump won Mr. Zeldin’s district, the eastern portion of Long Island that extends through the Hamptons, by 12 percentage points in 2016. In 2020, that margin shrank to around four percentage points, and redistricting is slated for this year, creating a measure of uncertainty and risk for the state’s Republican members of Congress in particular.
But Mr. Zeldin’s candidacy also speaks to Mr. Cuomo’s perceived vulnerability: Republican candidates for governor in New York tend to be less high-ranking than Mr. Zeldin, a sitting member of Congress, given how difficult it is for Republicans to run statewide.
The congressman has something of a national profile and donor base in Republican circles. He previewed on Thursday how he would seek to position himself in a heavily Democratic state.
“With one-party Democrat rule in New York City and Albany, the light that once shone as a beacon of what America can be has gone dark,” he said in the release.
“The New York that was once a magnet for the world’s best and brightest is now forcing its own to leave under the crushing weight of skyrocketing taxes, lost jobs, suffocating regulations, and rising crime resulting from dangerously liberal policies.”
In his campaign announcement video, Mr. Zeldin made no mention of Mr. Trump, focusing on quality-of-life concerns and economic matters and lacing into Mr. Cuomo.
Mr. Zeldin’s political background may well resonate in a Republican primary, though a potential primary rival, Representative Elise Stefanik, sent something of a warning shot on Thursday evening.
“Congresswoman Stefanik continues to receive encouragement from all corners of the state as she would immediately be the strongest Republican candidate in both a primary and general gubernatorial election,” said Alex deGrasse, a senior adviser to Ms. Stefanik, another strongly pro-Trump Republican. “She appreciates the widespread encouragement and is not ruling anything out.”
Mr. Zeldin has taken many positions even beyond his embrace of the Trump administration that would make a statewide race challenging — and a race for governor may bring with it far more scrutiny than a congressional run.
He has an A+ rating from the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that opposes abortion rights, and he has generally been embraced by pro-gun rights groups.
Several years ago, he faced criticism for meeting with the Long Island chapter of the Oath Keepers, a national far-right militia group. Some suspected members have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“As a radical right-wing member of the Republican Party, he just has no broad-based appeal in a state like New York,” said Jay Jacobs, the New York State Democratic Party chairman. “That’s not to say that it’s impossible for any Republican to win. I just believe it’s impossible for that Republican to win.”
Mr. Zeldin, a veteran of the Iraq War who has emphasized his work on veterans’ issues, is a former state senator who was first elected to Congress in 2014. He is the co-chairman of the House Republican Israel Caucus, giving him fluency on an issue that is of importance to a sizable slice of the New York electorate. As a fixture at Republican Jewish Coalition events, he has access to a national network of donors and supporters as well.
Mr. Zeldin’s decision to run for governor, which he first announced on Fox News, is expected to turn his district into an open-seat House race, pending redistricting decisions.
He will be one of several declared or potential Republican candidates interested in running for governor who will appear in Albany, N.Y., on April 19 to meet with Republican county chairs to lobby for their support.
Others include Rob Astorino, the party’s 2014 nominee for governor, and Andrew Giuliani, the son of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer. Ms. Stefanik is also expected to attend, according to someone familiar with her plans.
Councilman Joseph Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, said that Mr. Zeldin had been contemplating his candidacy for quite some time.
“Maybe a few months ago when he first thought about this, the hope was Andrew Cuomo wouldn’t be on the ballot,” he said of Mr. Zeldin. “Now the hope is that Democrats are saddled with the sandbag of Andrew Cuomo.”
For months, Mr. Cuomo’s Democratic rivals have been thinking about how to ensure that he is not their candidate, though he has indicated that he wants to run again.
Should he resign or not run for re-election, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, has been discussed as the most formidable potential contender, and some prominent Democrats believe she could effectively clear the field.
But a range of other names have been discussed as well. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who would assume power if Mr. Cuomo is removed from office, is expected to run for a full term as governor next year, should that scenario unfold.