Former Gov. George Pataki is calling on Sen. Lee Zeldin to end his challenge to Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop and seek re-election, clearing the field for his preferred candidate and former aide, George Demos.

Essentially, Pataki has seized on the surprise New Year’s Eve retirement of former Long Island Sen. Chuck Fuschillo as a vehicle for pushing Demos’ candidacy, arguing that Zeldin is needed in the Senate in order for the Republicans to retain their slim hold on power in the chamber.

“All Republicans want to see our party hold the State Senate majority in Albany and elect a Republican congressman in the First District of Long Island,” Pataki said in a statement this morning.

“This can best be accomplished by reelecting Lee Zeldin to the State Senate and by electing George Demos to US Congress. Lee Zeldin has a wonderful future and is an integral part of the Republican majority in Albany. With the retirement of Senator Fuschillo, it is essential to hold the seat and Lee Zeldin has the best chance to hold that senate seat.”

(A small nit: The Senate Republicans aren’t actually in the majority. The Democrats actually have a numeric majority in the chamber, but aren’t in control thanks to their four renegade former colleagues who struck a power-sharing agreement with the GOP after the last election).

Given the former governor’s support of Demos, who is largely self-funding his campaign – his third attempt at unseating Bishop – this shouldn’t come as any big surprise.

Most members of the GOP and Conservative establishment, including (at least publicly) Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, have lined up in support of Zeldin’s candidacy. They apparently feel pretty secure that they’ll be able to hold Zeldin’s Senate seat, even though it was briefly held by a Democrat – Brian Foley – whom Zeldin defeated in 2010.

Fuschillo’s seat? Well, that’s a different story. The Democrats are practically salivating over the chance to win that one, and they think they’ve got a good chance.

Pataki, however, is clearly going to bat for Demos, reiterating his endorsement of his former aide today and insisting that he has the “intellect, character, resources, and energy to win this campaign against Congressman Bishop and most importantly to fight for the values that we as Republicans so dearly hold.”

UPDATE: Zeldin’s campaign manager Chapin Fay emailed the following response:

“Lee Zeldin is all in for his run for Congress. Our campaign already has hundreds of volunteers. We have the unanimous support of all the town, county and state Republican Party and Conservative Party Chairmen. We have now received the endorsements of 60 town, county and state elected officials representing the First Congressional District.”

“The same sense of duty that called Lee to serve in the U.S. Army calls him to fight to take back the First Congressional District. The Senate will have a more than worthy candidate to preserve that seat. We won’t be sidetracked from this mission by those who want to keep this Congressional seat in Democrat hands. The Zeldin for Congress Army is all-in and we are going to win.”