Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin's announcement on Thursday launching his campaign for governor marks an unusually early — and unofficial — start for the 2022 election season.
Hours after Zeldin's announcement, North Rep. Elise Stefanik's political team issued its own statement not ruling out a run for her as well.
“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 advisor to Stefanik. "She continues to set records as the most prolific New York Republican fundraiser ever in state history consistently earning the strongest performance at the ballot box cycle after cycle on Election Day. She appreciates the widespread encouragement and is not ruling anything out - nor will she make her decision based on others’ timetables. Congresswoman Stefanik believes it is a testament to the strength of the Republican Party in New York that there are many other high-quality candidates running or considering running."
The developments underscore just how unsettled the race for governor could be next year amid the ongoing controversies swirling around Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
He has indicated he will seek a fourth term, but the governor has faced bipartisan calls for his resignation amid an escalating series of troubles, including allegations of sexual harassment, his office's reporting of nursing home fatalities and reports of preferential COVID-19 testing for family members.
Cuomo in all instances has denied any wrongdoing.
At the same time, Cuomo continues to hold onto a sizable campaign war chest of $15 million as of January that would continue to make him a formidable incumbent to unseat in a heavily Democratic state. The governor is almost certain to draw a Democratic primary challenge in 2022 as he has in every re-election year.
Fundraising for governor in New York takes time and patience, and far harder to do when launching a bid in the year of the election itself. Cuomo's eventual Republican opponents in 2014 and 2018 did not formally enter the race for several months into the year.
Republican county chairs will meet on April 29 to discuss the campaign, state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said Thursday in an interview.
Once again, Republicans hope the next cycle will be different despite the odds stacked against them in New York.
"There's an awful lot on the line nationally that would lend itself to a situation like it was in 1994," Langworthy said, pointing to a major Republican success year in New York.
Then there's the possibility of the governor's office being an open seat for the first time since 2010.
"I can control what I can control," Langworthy said. "I can't control who they're going to run for governor."
And then there's one final factor: A year from now is multiple lifetimes in politics.
Just ask Rep. Tom Reed, the Southern Tier House member who entered the year as a potential contender for governor, but bowed out after he was accused of sexual harassment.