Another photo finish in the making in Long Island race
Randy Altschuler already had completed orientation for new members of Congress two years ago when his razor-thin lead over Democrat Timothy H. Bishop flipped into a 600-vote loss after a count of all absentee and affidavit ballots. So in this year’s rematch to represent eastern Long Island, neither is taking anything for granted.
Republican challenger and incumbent have flooded the airwaves with attack ads. Outside groups also have poured more than $4.3 million in the race — a hefty sum for a House race.
And while most independent political experts give Mr. Bishop a slight edge, the race — like the contest two years ago that wasn’t decided until a month after the election — is shaping up for another possible photo finish.
“At a glance it looks like it should be tied, should be a tossup,” said Donald P. Levy, director of the Siena (College) Research Institute. “It doesn’t surprise me that it’s going to be very, very close.”
Eastern Long Island’s sluggish economy, proportionally high taxes and stagnant property values are issues driving the campaign, much like two years ago. And with the district’s boundaries changing little due to redistricting this year, the campaign in many ways is a continuation of the 2010 version.
Mr. Altschuler has portrayed the incumbent, a five-term House member, as a lock-step liberal Obama Democrat. Mr. Bishop, rather, has pegged his challenger — a business executive and former investment banker — as being out of touch with the district’s working class electorate.
Yet partisan hyperbole doesn’t always resonate in the politically mixed and moderate district, where voters routinely swivel between electing Republicans and Democrats to Congress and the White House. And ticket splitting — voters who support both Democratic and Republican candidates in the same election — isn’t the anomaly it is elsewhere.
“They’re really competing again for the same people,” Mr. Levy said. “And Long Island is a place where you ask people how things are going and they tell you the economy has been difficult.”
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney likely will carry the district, which includes the swanky Hamptons but is dominated by middle-class communities like Brookhaven. President Obama’s lackluster image here hasn’t doomed Mr. Bishop’s campaign, as many voters haven’t linked him with the president.
Democrats, meanwhile, argue that if the 41-year-old Mr. Altschuler couldn’t win during a tea party-fueled GOP wave election two years ago then he certainly won’t come close now. But tea party Republicanism largely never took root on Long Island, meaning that while Mr. Altschuler didn’t benefit greatly from its boom in 2010, he’s also not suffering much from its wane in 2012.
“Both candidates I think are representing very well the positions of their national party,” said Hofstra University economics professor Marty Melkonian, who has closely followed the race.
Mr. Bishop, 62, has hammered his opponent, as he did two years ago, over his former involvement in a company that consulted American corporations in outsourcing jobs — a charge that has resonated with many voters.
Many who have closely followed the race say Mr. Alschuler has learned from his 2010 run, and is operating a smarter and more aggressive campaign this time.
Mr. Altschuler and his allies, including the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS, have attacked Mr. Bishop for his role in helping secure a permit for a campaign donor for a large fireworks display at his son’s bar mitzvah.
And Republicans insist the political climate has changed since 2010 in his favor. Mr. Romney’s expected victory in the district will provide Mr. Altschuler with some coattails. The New Yorker, they say, also has done much better wooing independent voters who largely sided with Mr. Bishop in 2010.
The Republican also has secured a coveted endorsement from Newsday, Long Island’s biggest newspaper.
“Randy’s in a better position than certainly two years ago, and we just missed two years ago,” said John McLaughlin of McLaughlin & Associates, which conducted a mid-October poll for the Altschuler campaign that showed him with a slight led.
Outside groups have spent about $2.2 million on behalf of Mr. Altschuler, including more than $700,000 in the last week.
But Democratic friendly groups haven’t ignored Mr. Bishop, as they’ve poured more than $2 million of their own money into race.
“I would give a slight edge to Bishop at this point unless something comes up between now and Election Day. . . . but it will be a very small margin,” Mr. Melkonian said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if something would come up that would push Altschuler over the top.”