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1st C.D.: AARP poll shows that voters seek more specifics

Congressman Tim Bishop, left, and his opponent, Randy

Congressman Tim Bishop, left, and his opponent, Randy Altschuler, pose with student Jennifer Linares after a debate between the two candidates at Hampton Bays High School. (Sept. 24, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas)

Three-quarters of older voters in Eastern Suffolk County believe that their congressional candidates have done a bad job explaining positions on Social Security and Medicare, according to a new survey.

AARP on Tuesday announced the results of its poll of 399 registered voters age 50 and over in New York’s 1st Congressional District, where Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) is again facing Republican businessman Randy Altschuler, of St. James.

In the telephone poll – conducted from Sept. 7-18, with a 4.9 percent margin of error – 75 percent of voters said the candidates had done a “not so good” or “poor” job of explaining their plans for strengthening and reforming Social Security. Seventy six percent said the same of Bishop and Altschuler’s Medicare platforms.

“People are dissatisfied with the level of dialogue on this,” said Christopher Widelo, AARP’s associate state director of legislative affairs. “In their opinion, the candidates are not providing enough information on how these programs are going to be protected.”

Joined by nearly a dozen volunteers, Widelo and another AARP staffer, William Stoner, announced the poll findings in downtown Patchogue Tuesday morning. They planned to hand-deliver the results to both Bishop and Altschuler’s campaign headquarters later in the day.

Although each candidate, as part of their first two debates, spoke in a little more detail this week about Medicare, previous campaigning has mostly focused on negative attacks.

Bishop this week said he has consistently opposed plans to privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher program, which some Republicans have proposed. Altschuler said he does not support any plan that reduces Medicare for seniors, but has chided Bishop for criticizing the House GOP budget plan that includes Medicare reform while not backing a comprehensive alternative.

Reached Tuesday, the Bishop and Altschuler teams reacted to the AARP poll by placing more blame on their opponent.

“Tim Bishop has been in Congress for nearly ten years, while Social Security and Medicare have crept towards insolvency at a faster and faster rate,” said Altschuler spokesman Chris Russell. “Randy Altschuler will protect and preserve Medicare and Social Security by using his experience as a self-made businessman to work across party lines and solve the very serious economic and fiscal problems facing the country today.”

Bishop campaign spokesman Robert Pierce said that voters will hear a clearer message from them moving forward – one that will continue to hammer the budget proposal by Vice Presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) that Altschuler largely supports.

At a recent debate, Altschuler called Ryan “brave” for introducing a comprehensive plan to reduce the federal deficit, one that includes Medicare reforms.

“To me there’s nothing brave at all about taking away benefits that our seniors have earned so we can give more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires,” Pierce said.

Regardless of the new back-and-forth, one district resident said she is still waiting for the candidates to get more specific about federal programs that many feel will not be around for future generations.

“They skirt the issue very nicely,” said Chelle Osleeb, 74, of Selden, who was leading AARP volunteers Tuesday.

She said she understands that Social Security and Medicare need to be “tweaked” to ensure their long-term solvency, but that “tweaking and changing everything are completely different matters.”

AARP will host a meet the candidates night with Bishop and Altschuler on Oct. 26 in Riverhead.

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