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GOP Challenger Visits D.C. With Race in Limbo

He spent the week in freshman orientation on Capitol Hill, but Randy Altschuler might not be coming back in January.

The New York Republican is clinging to a 272-vote lead in his quest to end Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop’s Congressional career at four terms, according to updated figures released Thursday by the Bishop campaign. The margin represents a dramatic improvement for the incumbent, who picked up 111 votes after the first 20 percent of absentee ballots in the Empire State’s 1st district were counted. The initial tally includes the hometowns of each of the candidates.

The campaigns fear the counting — and a possible hand recount — will span well past Thanksgiving.

But Altschuler showed little sign of stress Thursday afternoon as he trekked down Independence Avenue for yet another stop during a busy week of orientation events. The Long Island businessman is a member of an exclusive club as one of just six Republicans who attended the orientation but have yet to secure victory.

“We had a bruising primary. Now we have this. I’ve got a little of everything,” Altschuler told Roll Call, laughing. He has never before run for elected office and admits, “If it’s your first time, you might as well get a taste of the whole process.”

And while he appeared relaxed, he made no predictions about the outcome of his race, with thousands of absentee and affidavit ballots left to be counted, not to mention potential court proceedings.

“I’m not making any assumptions,” he said while trudging across Capitol Hill, braving a blustery November with his campaign manager at his side. “It’s the responsible thing to come to the orientation. They only give it once. And if I am fortunate enough to be elected, I want to make sure I’m up to speed. It’s most important to my constituents that I hit the ground running.”

Altschuler will not attend Friday’s freshman class photo on the Capitol steps, nor will he participate in the freshman drawing for Congressional offices, assuming that he would simply take Bishop’s office in the Cannon House Office Building should he ultimately claim the seat.

While his political future is very much in doubt, a Bishop campaign spokesman said the Congressman is encouraged by the updated ballot totals.

“The fact that we have picked up this many votes in just two towns, including a Republican stronghold, is an extremely encouraging sign,” spokesman Jon Schneider said. “The momentum is clearly on Tim Bishop’s side, and we are confident we will win this election.”

Should Altschuler lose, Democrats will surely look to Bishop to try to win back his seat in 2012, when the electorate could be more favorable for the party.

Altschuler, meanwhile, had little to say about the Democrats’ high-profile leadership elections this week in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi was selected to serve as the Minority Leader in the next Congress. Republicans, and even some Democrats, said the outspoken California lawmaker’s continued role as face of the party will hurt Democrats’ re-election chances in 2012.

Bishop attended the lame-duck session this week and participated in Democratic leadership elections.

“Second guessing the politics of the Democratic Party, that’s not my job,” Altschuler said, passing just a few blocks from the Republican National Committee building that displayed a massive “Hire Pelosi” banner. “I don’t think people in my district care who the Minority Leader is. I think they care what kind of service does their Representative provide and how is the country. Whether or not Nancy Pelosi is the Minority Leader is irrelevant.”

Altschuler did use Pelosi to beat up on Bishop during the campaign, but he said she was simply used as an example that his opponent “put party before district.” He suggested to Roll Call that he would break with the Republican leadership team if necessary.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be elected, I’m going to be expected to take stances that are best for us, for the district and the American people, not necessarily what’s best for the Republican Party,” he said.

Altschuler returned to his wife and 3-year-old son in New York on Thursday night.

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