ALBANY, N.Y. — Former Rep. Lee Zeldin acknowledges that a potential run against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would be an uphill battle, but the Republican isn’t completely ruling out a campaign against her in 2024.
“We’ll keep an eye on the race,” Zeldin said while at the state Capitol on Monday to visit with lawmakers. “If we did run, it would be an extremely competitive race.”
The former Long Island congressman received nearly 47 percent of the vote against Gov. Kathy Hochul last November, the best performance by a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the solidly-blue state in two decades.
He has since launched a federal PAC, raising questions about what he might do next.
That includes the possibility Zeldin will challenge Gillibrand as she seeks a third full term in the Senate in 2024. The two have publicly criticized each other in recent months, and Gillibrand has raised money off the possibility he might enter the race.
“It was something that I was giving no thought to, but she was trying to fundraise. And the best way to fundraise in the first quarter of 2023 was to speak about a viable opponent,” Zeldin said in an interview before joining former presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway at a dinner for the New York State Federation of Republican Women near Albany.
Zeldin said his main focus right now is helping out candidates for local office this year “who helped us during last year’s race.” He’s spent recent weeks traveling the state to campaign with the candidates “and that’s where the focus will remain” for the moment.
“We’ll see how the race shapes up,” he said of the possibility of challenging Gillibrand. But he acknowledged that “there’s even more of a Democratic-favored turnout” in a presidential election year than in a midterm like the one in which he led the GOP ticket in 2022.
Rumors of high-profile challengers against Gillibrand have emerged each of the three times she has previously appeared on the ballot since ex-Gov. David Paterson appointed her to the Senate in 2009. But none has ever emerged, and she’s had some of the best-ever performances by a statewide candidate in New York’s history.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s team recently confirmed to POLITICO that she would not be joining that Senate race next year.
“We feel it’s important to have a very strong total ticket next year,” state Conservative Party Chair Gerard Kassar said on Monday. “President and Congress obviously are going to be important, but we don’t intend to have a middle piece there that isn’t [a strong challenger].”
Kassar would be open to “anything that Lee is interested in in terms of elective office,” but he said he has not yet had serious conversations on a potential Zeldin candidacy for Senate.
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