Republicans More Optimistic About New York’s 1st District

Bishop is a GOP target in 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Bishop is a GOP target in 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 4, 2013 at 5:00am

Republicans don’t yet have the candidate they want in New York’s 1st District against Democratic Rep. Timothy H. Bishop. But a couple close contests and an ongoing investigation is giving the GOP hope of winning the seat next year.

The eastern Long Island district has a history of competitiveness. Bishop won re-election by 593 votes (less than half of 1 percentage point) in 2010 and by 11,047 votes (4 points) in 2012, both times over Republican Randy Altschuler.

But, as my colleague Stu Rothenberg wrote in Roll Call in August 2012, the trend goes back much further:

I have been watching New York’s 1st district since I came to Washington, D.C., in 1980. The suburban district on the east end of Long Island has often had competitive races and has flipped from one party to the other a number of times during the past 30 years.

I saw incumbent Bill Carney (R) win re-election that November, and I watched George Hochbrueckner (D) win the seat when Carney retired four years later. I saw Republican Michael Forbes beat Hochbrueckner in 1994, and I watched Forbes switch parties and then lose his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2000.

Later that same year, I saw Republican Felix Grucci win the open seat, and only two years later, I saw Grucci lose to Democrat Tim Bishop.

In the last two election cycles, Democrats had the luxury of running against Altschuler. While the wealthy Republican was well-funded, Altschuler was an easy target for the outsourcing charge since he co-founded a company in India and the company was featured in a full-length documentary.

Next year, Bishop isn’t likely to face a candidate with the same level of campaign fodder.

Republican George Demos just announced his third run for 1st District seat, including a $1 million initial personal investment in the race. But some GOP strategists are more excited about state Sen. Lee Zeldin entering the race.

It would be Zeldin’s second run against Bishop. He lost to the congressman in 2008, 58 percent to 42 percent. Zeldin was a political neophyte then and was subsequently elected to a competitive seat in the state Senate in 2010. Republicans expect him to be a much stronger challenger this time around.

In 2010, Demos lost to Altschuler in the GOP primary, 46 percent to 30 percent, and ran again in 2012. Both times, Demos attacked Altschuler for outsourcing, but last year he dropped out of the race one month before the primary. The candidate cited his upcoming wedding as the reason. Since the primary date was no surprise, other GOP observers believe it had more to do with saving face.

While Republicans are bullish on Zeldin, ethical questions surrounding Bishop fuel their optimism as well.

Last month, Roll Call reported that the Office of Congressional Ethics was continuing its investigation into whether Bishop helped a constituent get government clearance for a bar mitzvah fireworks display and subsequently asked for a campaign donation.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington recently renamed Bishop to the list of “Most Corrupt Members of Congress.” The list, which usually seems reserved for Republican members, makes for an easy attack ad against the congressman.

Of course, Zeldin isn’t in the race yet, and Bishop has shown some electoral muscle by winning in a variety of election cycles. But in another midterm election, which could be more focused on Obama and Bishop, the congressman could be in for his most competitive race yet.

New York’s 1st District is now rated Lean Democratic (from Democrat Favored) according to the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.