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Zeldin in demand after putting New York Dems on the defensive

ALBANY, N.Y. — Republican Lee Zeldin's strong performance last week in the New York governor's race helped his party flip three House seats and put Republicans on track to pick up two open ones. Now, party leaders say the breakthrough performance could propel him to the national stage — or least another run for office.

Zeldin is already being mentioned as a possible Republican National Committee chairman, after the Long Island congressman produced the closest governor's contest in New York since 1994. He proved he could run on a message of the economy and crime that resonated in a heavily blue state, his allies said.

Zeldin consultant John Brabender said the candidate has been fielding calls from Republicans across the nation about potentially running for RNC chair. Ronna McDaniel, who currently holds the post, announced Monday she'd seek another term. She did not immediately comment on Zeldin's potential to challenge her.

"Lee ended up receiving a lot of calls around the country from a lot Republican leaders and actually a lot of Republicans on the ground saying that New York seemed to be the exception this year as far as effectiveness," Brabender said, reiterating comments he made Sunday to NBC News.

Other Republicans in New York touted Zeldin's ability to come within 6 percentage points of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in a state with twice as many Democrats as Republicans. And his aggressive campaign seemed to have coattails: Republicans flipped two seats on his native Long Island, beat Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney in the Hudson Valley, secured an open seat with Marc Molinaro in upstate, and are ahead in another open seat in Syracuse.

Republicans' success in New York bucked the national trend, as a predicted red wave didn't materialize. The GOP victories in New York are expected to prove critical if, as expected, Republicans win a narrow House majority.

"The most important thing in of all this is how to win federal races in blue states. New York is so blue it’s almost indigo, and yet he managed to change the face of the U.S. House of Representatives by sheer force of will," said Mike Caputo, a Republican strategist in New York who helped lead Carl Paladino's run for governor in 2010, on Monday.

Republicans nationwide have taken notice of Zeldin's strong run.

"Even in places we came up a little bit short like Lee Zeldin's race for governor in New York, compared to Republicans in recent elections, he performed very well, and he probably helped save the House of Representatives," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Zeldin's office said he's discussing his next steps.

"Congressman Zeldin is always ready to serve," his office said in a statement. "People are reaching out with their thoughts and ideas on what they believe he should do next. The ideas range all across the spectrum, in and out of government. Congressman Zeldin is hearing everyone out."

He still will serve in the House until the end of the year but would have to pivot quickly to build support if he wants to run for RNC chairman.

Zeldin, 42, has a number of other options. The state party will be looking for a new chair in January when Nick Langworthy, who won a House seat in Western New York, resigns to serve in Congress.

Zeldin is also considered a potential candidate for Suffolk County executive in his home county when the seat is on the ballot next year.

Caputo, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, said Zeldin pulled off a rare feat in the divisive times in politics, including among Republicans: He kept his relationships intact. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigned for him, and he has remained in the good graces of Trump, whom Zeldin had long backed and didn't eschew during the campaign.

That could serve Zeldin well if he runs for RNC chair, Caputo said.

"After running for governor in a blue state and overperforming what were average expectations, he still remains an ally of the president," Caputo said. "He didn’t just thread one needle, he threaded a dozen needles. And to be national chairman of the Republican Party, you got to be in the needle-threading business."


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