Democrats' outcome in November election a tough call: Israel

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington).

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington). (Credit: Getty Images)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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Even while he recites the maxim that all politics is local, Rep. Steve Israel keeps tabs these days on local politics far from his Suffolk-Nassau-Queens district.

In his fourth year chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Israel proclaims it impossible to predict November's outcome. House Republicans hold a 234-201 majority.

Last October, House Republicans under Speaker John Boehner took a hard public-relations hit for their 16-day federal shutdown. However, what Israel himself calls a "disaster" of a rollout of the new nationwide health insurance law has put pressure on the Democrats.

And this, Israel says, "proves my point: It's fluid. It's not only fluid, it's like a tornado.

"In October, when the Republicans shut down the House, pundits were saying that we would pick up 50 seats. Three weeks later, when the Obama-care website was rolled out, the same pundits were saying that we would lose 50 seats. If three weeks could change so dramatically, why would I waste time thinking about 9 months?

"You have to be stoic."

Nobody in this region's delegation plays a day-to-day role in national partisan operations like that of the 55-year-old Huntington Democrat, first elected to Congress in 2000. That is, maybe, unless you wish to count the long-shot presidential feelers of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).

Mentally scanning the New York State map during an interview Wednesday, Israel touted three potential Democratic opportunities. In the Staten Island-Brooklyn district, GOP Rep. Michael Grimm, vexed by a federal probe into his campaign finances, faces Democratic ex-Councilman Domenic Recchia. Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning), who got 52 percent last time, has endured negative publicity about late tax payments. And Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook) faces a widely watched challenge from Democrat Sean Eldridge.

On defense, Israel mentioned GOP-targeted veteran Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who'd face either state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) or lawyer George Demos, while rookie Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) faces a rematch from Republican ex-Rep. Nan Hayworth.

Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) is retiring. With a Republican primary looming, one Democratic candidate, filmmaker Aaron Woolf, has been gathering support, but Israel said guardedly, "There may be others. We'll see." Rep. Dan Maffei (D-DeWitt) might or might not make the defense list, too, he said.

Beyond New York, Israel says he looks especially to Florida, Colorado and California for gains, and cites "17 districts that Obama won that have Republican incumbents." He noted a net flip of 17 seats would win a majority.

Israel firmly denies his DCCC and local roles clash. "The principal benefit of being 'D triple C' [chairman] and being leadership is being able to defend my district, protect its interest at the highest levels," he said. Earlier Wednesday, constituent meetings brought him to Whitestone and Deepdale Gardens in Queens, along with Great Neck, Lake Success and Glen Cove in Nassau.

From Israel's 3rd District, lawyer Grant Lally and financial services professional Steve Labate seek the Republican nomination. Next door, Democratic Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice seeks to succeed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) in the 4th District, where Frank Scaturro and Bruce Blakeman have announced for the GOP nomination.