Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
The bad news is Vecchio's win on Monday -- by a margin of a single committee member's 74 weighted votes -- doesn't ensure him a place on the November ballot. His victory also was not nearly big enough to give his foe, town board member Robert Creighton, second thoughts about waging a GOP primary on Sept. 10.
Creighton two days later locked up the Conservative Party nomination for supervisor, meaning that he will have a guaranteed place on the November ballot, albeit on a minor party line.
That means that even if Vecchio, 82, wins a GOP primary, Creighton, 75, a former Suffolk County police commissioner, will remain on the November ballot, resulting in a three-way race. Such a free-for-all could make little-known Democratic candidate Steve Snair a legitimate contender if he gets the Democrats' base vote of 25 to 35 percent. A Democrat hasn't won the job in Republican-dominated Smithtown since Vecchio first won as a Democrat in 1978.
"I'm disappointed but I'm not devastated," said Creighton, adding, "I don't think the supervisor is very happy about the outcome either."
But Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Vecchio's campaign chairman, called the convention vote a "very good win." "It was close but we have Pat as the designated Republican candidate and that's important no matter how others try to spin it."
Creighton ally Edward Walsh, Suffolk Conservative Party chairman, said the outcome showed that Vecchio is vulnerable. "A margin of 70 [weighted] votes is like a 7-6 football game," Walsh said. "It's hardly an edict for someone in office 30 years."
Fitzpatrick said Vecchio's campaign will be based on the supervisor's record of fiscal management and protecting local zoning. "This is not time to change the captain of the ship," said Fitzpatrick. "In these tough fiscal times, his experience is more valuable than ever."
Creighton said a more activist approach is needed: "People in the town want to see change, improvement to downtown areas which are starting to look like Beirut. They are also concerned about taxes, and the best way to hold down taxes is to bring in new business."
Fitzpatrick called talk of stagnation "nonsense." He also chided Creighton for backing a recent zoning change for a gas station-convenience store that Vecchio had opposed -- noting that it "needed 16 variances to make it work."
Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mainly for Republicans, said the Conservatives' backing of Creighton makes Vecchio's road tougher.
Dawidziak recalled a bitter GOP primary for Southampton supervisor in 2007, in which then-town board member Linda Kabot defeated incumbent Patrick "Skip" Heaney. In the general election, Heaney, on just the Conservative line, garnered 29.1 percent of the vote, which made the contest between Kabot and little-known Democrat James Henry much closer than expected. Kabot ultimately edged Henry by 54 votes -- 32.8 percent to 32.4 percent.
Republican Tom Barraga lost an Islip GOP supervisor primary to town board member Pamela Greene in 2006. He remained on an independent Integrity ballot line in November, siphoning off 7.73 percent of the vote -- enough to allow Democrat Phil Nolan the winner with only 49.8 percent of the vote.
Fitzpatrick said Vecchio is undeterred: "Pat's been around the block a few times and is ready for a fight."