The four Republican candidates for governor will face off Tuesday night in the last debate of the primary campaign ahead of the June 28 election.
“You’re going to see some fire tonight. And yes, I am a firebrand, but I also want it to be respectful and go to the issues that are affecting New York state,” Newsmax host and debate moderator Eric Bolling vowed to The Post on Tuesday afternoon.
“I will keep them on topic and they’re not going to be able to grandstand and filibuster.”
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The debate between Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk), businessman Harry Wilson, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and former White House aide Andrew Giuliani begins at 8 p.m. on Newsmax from upstate Rochester.
Bolling promised a barrage of questions on hot topics like inflation, rising crime, transgender rights and critical race theory.
“Absolutely crime. Crime is not unique to New York. Crime is an American problem right now. Obviously, that will somehow make its way into the defunding police topic,” Bolling added.
The conservative bent of the moderator is not the only way that the Newsmax debate will contrast with previous contests broadcast on CBS2 and NY1 that featured questions from more mainstream journalists.
For the first time in the campaign, all four candidates will be on stage together after Giuliani was kept from appearing at the other two over station COVID requirements. Giuliani told The Post on Tuesday that it was “nice” that Newsmax would allow him to appear in person after his vaccination status kept him physically away from his rivals in the first two debates.
The four candidates joined forces Monday night to slam COVID-19 restrictions — which they argue Democrats have pushed too far — alongside other topics like repealing bail reform, firing Alvin Bragg and pushing back against progressive anti-racism initiatives.
Giuliani, Wilson and Astorino later set their sights on Zeldin, the putative frontrunner in the contest, who has an edge with polling, fundraising and endorsements — including support from the Post Editorial Board.
His rivals seized on past praise of ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to suggest that Zeldin was a tool of the disgraced pol — a notion swatted away by Zeldin saying he had to get things done in a Democratic-dominated state.
“We have a job to try to find common ground, however possible and I don’t care if it’s a President Obama or President Trump, a President Biden or a Governor Cuomo — we have a responsibility to work together,” Zeldin said Monday.
Bolling said Tuesday that he intends on pressing the candidates to pick sides in the ongoing war between the MAGA and mainstream wings of the GOP.
“It is a very, very big question in conservative politics on the right: ‘What’s your attachment to America First policies?’ … iI’s going to be the hardest question to answer. I’m not sure how I’m going to frame it yet,” Bolling said of the political brand embodied by former President Donald Trump.
Trump has not endorsed anyone in the race despite longtime ties to Giuliani – son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – Zeldin and Astorino.
The winner of the GOP primary will likely face Gov. Kathy Hochul — who must fend off city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi in her own primary — in a general election campaign where Republicans are bullish of their chances to win their first statewide election in two decades.
State election records last updated in February show registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.
But any GOP standard-bearer has to get through Bolling, a longtime critic of woke culture, before they can pivot to general election mode.
“Kathy Hochul is vulnerable to Republicans and that is interesting to me and so I think tonight’s debate is going to be really, really fascinating and consequential,” Bolling told The Post.
“The trick is to ask the questions that I want answers to personally. I want to understand where these candidates are — again, where’s their political true North?”