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Lee Zeldin not running for RNC chair against Ronna McDaniel – for now

GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, who came very close to upsetting Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul last month in the predominantly blue state of New York, announced on Wednesday that he’s holding off – for now – on running for Republican National Committee chair, in what would be a direct challenge to current RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.

Zeldin, who’s been mulling an RNC chair bid for nearly a month, made his announcement on Twitter and in a statement.

“RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel should not run for a 4th term. I won’t be running for RNC Chair at this time with McDaniel’s reelection pre-baked by design, but that doesn’t mean she should even be running again. It’s time the GOP elects new leadership! It’s time for fresh blood!” Zeldin wrote.

Zeldin’s decision comes as Republicans continue to lick their wounds from a disappointing showing in the midterm elections, having failed to win control of the Senate, securing only a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, and losing key governors races and control of a handful of state legislative chambers, in what was supposed to be a “Red Wave” election. 


New York State Republican gubernatorial nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin addresses supporters at his election night party, just after midnight on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in New York.
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

And GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker’s defeat on Tuesday night to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia’s high profile runoff election brought more criticism on the Republican Party and McDaniel.

Zeldin, who emphasized the issue of crime in his campaign, lost to Hochul by six-points in the New York showdown. It was the best showing by a Republican gubernatorial nominee in the Empire State in 20 years, since GOP Gov. George Pataki won re-election.

Zeldin’s performance is being credited with helping to boost Republicans to key victories in U.S. House races in New York state, flipping blue seats red -which was a key factor in the GOP’s capturing of the House majority.


An attorney and officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, Zeldin was first elected to the House in 2014, representing a congressional district in Suffolk County covering the eastern end of New York’s Long Island. Zeldin was a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump during Trump’s tenure in the White House.

Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel headlines the New Hampshire GOP's unity breakfast, on Sept. 15, 2022, in Concord, N.H.

Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel headlines the New Hampshire GOP’s unity breakfast, on Sept. 15, 2022, in Concord, N.H.
(Fox News)

Last month McDaniel announced that she would seek a fourth two-year term steering the national party committee, which is unprecedented in modern times.

Following the 2016 election, a newly elected Trump chose McDaniel – who at the time was the chair of the Michigan GOP – to steer the national party committee. She was re-elected in 2019 and 2021.

The full RNC membership of 168 committee members will vote on the next chair when the national party organization holds its winter meeting next month in southern California. Under party rules, the two top posts must be held by one man and one woman. McDaniel’s camp recently released a list of over 100 RNC committee members – well more than the number needed to secure re-election – that they said were supporting the incumbent chair.

Zeldin argued in his statement that “change is desperately needed, and there are many leaders, myself included, ready and willing to step up to ensure our party retools and transforms as critical elections fast approach, namely the 2024 Presidential and Congressional races.”

But he acknowledged that “the issue is Chairwoman McDaniel’s re-election appears to already be pre-baked, as if the disappointing results of every election during her tenure, including yesterday in Georgia, do not and should not even matter.”

A spokesperson with McDaniel’s re-election bid pointed out to Fox News on Wednesday morning that Nebraska GOP chair Eric Underwood just endorsed McDaniel’s campaign for another two-year term, bringing to what they say are 108 endorsements. 

 “I am honored to offer my support for her election and look forward to working with Ronna over the next 2 years to achieve our American (and Nebraska) First goals,” Underwood wrote in a statement.

But sources in Zeldin’s world continue to question how firm that support may in a secret ballot vote and in the wake of Tuesday’s results in the Georgia Senate runoff election.

McDaniel currently has two challengers.


Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney who is also an RNC committee member from California and who served as a Trump campaign legal adviser, announced her bid on the Fox News Channel on Monday night.

“Republicans are tired of losing, and I think that we really need to radically reshape our leadership in order to win,” Dhillon said in an interview on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Dhillon told host Tucker Carlson “we really have to modernize to compete with the Democrats dollar for dollar in the ways they fundraise, the way they deliver their ballots to the ballot boxes.”

Last week MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who’s a strong supporter of Trump’s unproven claims the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen, announced he would challenge McDaniel.


Another Trump ally, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, has also said she’s weighing a run for national party chair. And former Trump White House adviser Mercedes Schlapp, the wife of American Conservative Union leader Matt Schlapp, also mulled a bid for chair.

With McDaniel and her declared or potential challengers all having ties to the former president, sources in Trump’s political orbit tell Fox News that as of now, it’s likely the former president will remain neutral and not weigh in on the race for RNC chair.

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