Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) was able to beat Republican Randy Altschuler by more than 11,000 votes -- after edging the challenger by only 593 votes in 2010 -- in part because of President Barack Obama's victory in the county and the effects of superstorm Sandy, political analysts said.
Bishop, 62, won his sixth term Tuesday by a 4.4 percentage point margin, compared with one-third of a point two years ago. Not counting absentee ballots, turnout in the 1st Congressional District rematch was 53 percent. In 2010, 46 percent of registered voters went to the polls.
Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 15,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, in Suffolk County, after some polls had shown the GOP nominee leading. Presidential results for the 1st District weren't available.
Michael Dawidziak, a political strategist who works primarily for Republicans, said the eastern Suffolk district traditionally has more Republicans than Democrats who only vote in presidential years -- but that many of them may have stayed home in Sandy's aftermath. The district has 166,342 registered Republicans and 145,428 Democrats.
Bishop also was more prepared this time for a serious run by Altschuler, Dawidziak said.
"When a first-time challenger comes really close, a lot of times it's because they catch the incumbent napping," Dawidziak said. "By the next time, the incumbent knows you're coming for him and he's not as overconfident."
Altschuler, 41, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. But campaign manager Diana Weir said Sandy had changed the race. When the storm hit, Altschuler stopped campaigning and the independent groups that had spent $3.4 million on his behalf declined to buy more ads, she said.
"I think the momentum was there with us," Weir said, citing recent internal polls that showed Altschuler with a slight lead. "The storm kind of put a halt on everything."
Pro-Altschuler super PACs bought ads that blasted Bishop for allegedly abusing his power to enrich himself and his family. Bishop denied the accusations.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said the ads may have rallied Bishop supporters.
"They no doubt rankled those who feel that, whatever the issue, family should be off limits," Levy said.
Some national political watchers had rated the Bishop-Altschuler rematch as a tossup, largely based off of the 2010 results. But Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst with the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said Altschuler's inability to capitalize on the tea party movement of 2010 was a sign he might not fare as well this year, since the movement has lost popularity with voters.
"Altschuler wasn't able to win even with the Republican winds at his back," Taylor said.
Bishop savored his victory: "This was an intensely difficult, stressful and personal campaign, so to come out on top, and by a relatively comfortable margin, that's a powerful vote of confidence."