Tim Bishop, Randy Altschuler praise each other in debate

Both the incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop and his challenger Randy Altschuler give closing remarks in a debate at the Fairfield community in St. James. Videographer: Jessica Rotkiewicz (Oct. 1, 2012)

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It was harder than usual Monday to distinguish the platforms of Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and his Republican opponent, Randy Altschuler.

Specific questions and a tightly controlled format led the 1st Congressional District candidates -- in their fifth debate in nine days -- to agree often and again avoid personal attacks.

In fact, for the first time in this campaign, Bishop and Altschuler were even forced to publicly compliment each other, beyond the typical, politically neutral "family man" tributes.

"I have admiration for his work ethic," Bishop, answering a request to name two "positives" about his challenger, said of Altschuler's campaign and efforts building two businesses. "He's worked his tail off."

Altschuler, in responding to the same question, called Bishop "very sincere in his beliefs."

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"I think we want people in the House of Representatives . . . who believe what they're voting for and standing for it," Altschuler told more than 100 people at the Fairfield at St. James senior community. "I think that's important, and I believe Congressman Bishop is one of those people."

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Even as their negative ads crowd the airwaves, Bishop and Altschuler spent Monday's League of Women Voters of Smithtown debate couching criticisms. That was partly because they weren't able to deliver direct rebuttals, and didn't field unfiltered audience questions, which often are more pointed than a moderator's.

Bishop again assailed the GOP's tea party elements for halting congressional compromise and progress, but stopped short of directly connecting his challenger to that movement, which his campaign often does. Altschuler, riding a nationwide tea party movement, came within 593 votes of defeating Bishop in 2010's election.

The St. James businessman, who this year has distanced himself from the tea party, repeated his critique of Bishop as overwhelmingly partisan, but said incumbents from "both parties" were to blame for gridlock in the House, and the lack of long-term solutions for programs like Medicare.

Both men decried middle-class tax hikes and said the Defense Department needs to be run more efficiently.

But when it comes to the federal budget, Bishop said the 1st District is a special case, as its largest employers are public institutions like Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, whose research creates private-sector jobs.

"When you talk about cutting spending, you have to be very, very careful," Bishop said.

Altschuler agreed, saying he would not vote with Republicans if spending cuts would be devastating to the district. But he said his jobs plan, which endorses looser regulations and more tax incentives, would make Suffolk less reliant on the public sector for employment.

"I plan on voting with the district 100 percent of the time," he said.

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