Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island. ...
In the drive-by race that is the First District GOP congressional primary, George Demos may come closest to a hometown contender.
He wasn't born or raised on Shelter Island, but he's emphasized in his campaign that he's been registered to vote at his family summer home there since he could vote.
That's a step closer than his better-financed millionaire foes: Former Office Tigers boss Randy Altschuler moved into the district about three years ago, while President Richard M. Nixon's grandson Chris Cox moved into his uncle's Westhampton Beach compound in January.
Still, Demos mostly mailed it in - in 10 of those 15 years, he voted by absentee ballot rather than show up at local polls. He moved to Ronkonkoma last September when he began campaigning full time to challenge four-term Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).
Party officials, however, say Demos has been a local GOP activist since 2004 when he first was screened for Congress.
Some see Demos as the underdog in the costly, hotly contested primary. "From what I'm seeing and hearing, George Demos is a distant third," said Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan.
But the former Security and Exchange Commission lawyer, 33, relishes such talk. "This is the year of the party outsider," said Demos, who's swung freely at both opponents, saying their flaws make them extremely vulnerable. "I'm the only candidate that ensures the debate this fall will be about Tim Bishop's failed record and not about Randy Altschuler's outsourcing jobs to India, or Chris Cox's family pedigree," he said, referring not only to Cox's grandfather, but his state GOP leader father, Edward.
One GOP consultant, John Zaher, said there's no clear front-runner because no one has a base or is well known. "All three are starting from scratch."
And even if Demos runs last, he could still have a huge impact by splitting the vote.
Critics say Demos has only bashed foes, ignoring issues. "He's run almost a totally negative campaign and even people once with him are looking elsewhere," said Jim Teese, a Cox aide.
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, said of Demos "a lot of people are concerned about the negative atmosphere and attacks that have been unnecessarily mean-spirited," which could hurt Demos' future aspirations. However, many believe LaValle backs Cox.
Demos says he doesn't bow to party bosses. "I'm going to do everything I can to let voters know who my opponents are and what I'll do to serve the district."
He called it "galling," for example, that Altschuler never voted until he decided to run for office and criticized him for belonging to the liberal Green Party. Demos labeled Cox a "country club Republican" who has never voted locally and financially backed candidates like Florida Gov. Charles Crist and Assemb. Dede Scozzafava - who back abortion rights.
Despite the donations, Cox said he opposes abortion and voted on the school budget and in a special town election earlier this year. Altschuler supporters attribute his early voting record to his youth and thinking that the Green Party was just pro-environment. They also said Altschuler's companies have created 700 jobs in the U.S.
Demos trumpets his own record of public service, working seven years as an SEC lawyer fighting Wall Street corruption. Demos also said he put a national spotlight on the plight of those seeking to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, destroyed in the Sept. 11 attack, publicity that led to a news conference a week ago with former Gov. George Pataki.
While Demos has raised a respectable $477,000, his fundraising efforts are dwarfed by Altschuler, who has raised $2.8 million, and Cox, who has raised $1.4 million - though the bulk of both these contenders' money is self-funded.
Demos emphasizes all his money all came from donors.
"I have one opponent whose trying to buy the seat, the other thinks he was born to it," he said, adding, "I'm trying to earn it."