The National Rifle Association has fired a political shot in what had been considered a non-competitive Republican primary for the 11th congressional seat in Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.
The NRA has endorsed little-known candidate Joe Caldarera over veteran state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who is the heavy favorite to win the primary and take on first-term Democratic Rep. Max Rose in the general election.
The NRA is backing Caldarera even though President Trump and Republican and Conservative leadership are behind Malliotakis.
Malliotakis, first elected to the Assembly in 2010, was the GOP candidate for mayor in 2017. While Democratic incumbent Bill de Blasio defeated her citywide, Malliotakis garnered an impressive 70 percent of the vote in her home borough of Staten Island.
The NRA gave Caldarera the nod after giving Malliotakis a C minus for her legislative voting record.
She voted for the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in 2013 — gun safety restrictions that are opposed by the gun-rights lobby.
The NRA said it gave Caldarera, 28, the endorsement based on his answers in its questionnaire. He has never held office or taken any votes to be judged on.
“I have always been steadfast and strong in my support for our 2nd Amendment constitutional rights, and I am thrilled that the NRA has endorsed my campaign. Nicole Malliotakis does not share the values of the people of Staten Island and South Brooklyn, and I am looking forward to offering them a loyal conservative choice on June 23rd,” Caldarera said in a statement.
Malliotakis initially endorsed Marco Rubio for president over Trump in 2016, and she distanced herself from the president when questioned about him and his policies during the 2017 mayoral races.
But Trump endorsed her in a February 12 tweet.
“@NMalliotakis is running for Congress in NY, I know her well, we need her to defeat Max Rose, who voted for Impeachment! Nicole is Strong on Crime & Borders, #2A, Cutting Taxes, & she Loves our Military & Vets. Nicole has my Complete & Total Endorsement!,” the president said.
Caldarera worked as a special victims bureau prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office before launching his underdog campaign. His caseload included defendants who committed sexually-based offenses and crimes against children.
He also previously worked for former Councilman Vincent Ignizio.
Malliotakis campaign spokesman Rob Ryan downplayed the impact of the NRA endorsement for Caldarera.
“It’s easy to get a high grade on any questionnaire when you’ve never held elective office,” Ryan said.
“For 10 years Nicole Malliotakis has served in the legislature and has cast votes that reflect the views of her constituents. She is endorsed by President Trump and the Republican County Committees and Conservative Party in the 11th Congressional District and she is the conservative Republican candidate who can defeat Max Rose.”
Some independent political observers, such as the Cook Political Report, consider the 11th congressional district a toss-up in the general election. Trump easily carried the congressional district in 2016.