Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
A local pattern comes clear on the verge of New York’s presidential primary vote: All Republican candidates for Long Island House seats have avoided embracing GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
For their Democratic opponents-in-waiting, the picture is reversed. They all seem to be rallying behind front-runner Hillary Clinton.
What House candidates do can be especially relevant Tuesday because the primary results go by congressional district. The presidential candidate who wins the most votes in a given district gets most of its allotted convention delegates.
Neither of Long Island’s Republican congressmen — veteran Peter King of Seaford nor rookie Lee Zeldin of Shirley — chose to endorse in the primary even as their county chairmen back Trump.
Last year, King floated his own name for president — mainly to gain a platform for attacking arch-nemesis Sen. Ted Cruz. King ended that dance last July. Later, he said positive things about Jeb Bush, and still later, he backed Marco Rubio, until the Florida senator dropped out.
In recent weeks and months, King has called Trump a “feckless pretender” who demonstrates “pettiness and small-mindedness.” When Trump said on TV he didn’t know who former KKK leader David Duke was, King said he was either “dumb” or lying, which would be “shameful.”
Last month, Zeldin said: “If Donald Trump is the candidate against Hillary Clinton, then I will be supporting Donald Trump.” For the primary, however, Zeldin punted. Both State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury) and retired Marine David Gurfein, running in the 3rd and 4th districts, respectively, also skipped endorsing.
Reasons for reticence are clear. A lot can happen between now and the end of the GOP’s July convention. Even more can happen between the convention and the November election. Taking sides on this one is risky given Trump’s controversial behavior and the prospects of a floor fight in Cleveland.
By contrast, Clinton has a Long Island chorus behind her. First-term Rep. Kathleen Rice endorsed her early on.
Rep. Steve Israel, a longtime Clinton ally, is not seeking re-election, but fellow Democrats vying to succeed him seem to have all joined up. Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) attended Nassau party chairman Jay Jacobs’ fundraiser featuring Clinton last week. Former North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman has stated his support. And both former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and North Hempstead Town Board member Anna Kaplan appear on Tuesday’s ballot as candidates for convention delegates pledged to Clinton.
Two candidates for the Democratic nomination in Zeldin’s 1st District also back Clinton: David Calone has been quoted as saying her candidacy was an “important part of my deciding to run.” His rival in a June primary, Anna Throne-Holst, recently touted her participation in a gun control forum with Clinton and Rep. Israel.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), also facing re-election in November, has been front and center defending the Clintons on racial issues and questioning Sanders’ commitment to gun control.
Whatever their involvement Tuesday, the congressional candidates will be keeping close watch on the district numbers — for what they may say about their own races in June and November.