Take the country's last-decided House race of 2010, amplify the attack lines and add a new wild card: presidential turnout.
Welcome to the 1st Congressional District rematch between Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Republican businessman Randy Altschuler, which is generating intensity far above any other Long Island contest, as the opponents hammer at each other on issues ranging from the outsourcing of jobs to congressional ethics.
The candidates, separated by just 593 votes the last time, tout conflicting polls to claim a current edge, even as analysts put them in one of a few nationwide "toss-ups." They've raised money at near-identical paces, and as the summer ends, honed their rhetorical onslaughts.
Some of the same fights
"This is clearly the barnburner race of the region," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia campaign consultant who works mostly with the GOP. "As a political pundit, you're like a fight promoter -- looking for a good matchup that generates heat. This is it."
Bishop has resumed branding Altschuler as an outsourcer because his former company had most of its jobs based overseas, and points to his own work stopping government jobs from leaving the region. He calls his opponent's support for the budget plan by Mitt Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), dangerous to the district's two largest employers, Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University.
Altschuler calls Bishop an ineffective bureaucrat, and said he's the one with a true jobs plan. He's also seized on the ethics issue, fueled by old media stories of Bishop's family holding positions at Southampton College when Bishop was provost, and a new report that the congressman's fundraisers sought money from a constituent he helped get a fireworks permit.
Patrick Halpin, a Democrat and former Suffolk County executive, said both bases have larger energizing issues: Bishop supporters can rally against national Republicans' stance on social issues, while Altschuler's camp can seize on the underperforming economy under President Barack Obama.
Fueled by national race
"Both sides probably think they're going to get a lift from the presidential turnout," Halpin said of a district that in 2008 tilted to Obama, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Two-thirds or more of the district's active enrollment of 438,771 could vote on Nov. 6. In 2010, when 47 percent of active voters came out, Bishop's margin of victory was a third of a percentage point. He received 7,370 votes on the Independence Party line, which this year will list Altschuler.
"If I'm Altschuler, I've got to feel good about that," said Kyle Kondik, who follows House races for the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "I don't know if that's enough, but it's sure to make it close again."
The National Republican Congressional Committee has made the race a priority, designating Altschuler, 41, as one of their "young guns." A recent Altschuler-commissioned poll showed him leading Bishop 47 percent to 43 percent, but that followed a Democratic PAC poll with Bishop up 24 points.
As of June 30, Bishop had raised $1.85 million in the current cycle and Altschuler had raised $1.83 million. Bishop holds the edge in cash on hand, $1.5 million to $798,816.
Nathan Gonzales, a political analyst with the nonpartisan Rothenberg Report, said the district's history of close races suggests a blowout is unlikely.
He said Altschuler might carry "residual negatives" from the 2010 campaign, but this time, also benefited from avoiding a full primary featuring the same attacks.
"I still think he has a challenging race against Bishop," Gonzales said. "But if he's staying competitive, it probably means Democrats are struggling in other regions across the country, and reclaiming the [House] majority isn't in play."
The challenges ahead
The candidates themselves expect a grueling stretch run.
Altschuler must continue defending OfficeTiger, the Manhattan firm he co-founded, from outsourcing claims. It provided office support services, many of which were based overseas. Only last week, Bishop launched a website focused on its officials' previous statements touting foreign jobs.
OfficeTiger had 4,000 employees -- half in India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines -- when it was sold in 2006. But Altschuler notes that company had 750 U.S.-based jobs, with none of the overseas positions created at their expense.
"We're going to continue telling people the facts," said Altschuler, newly aggressive in defending his record. "Tim Bishop has been unable to deliver."
On Bishop marrying him to the Ryan budget, Altschuler said he disagrees with Pell grant cuts that could hurt public institutions such as Stony Brook University. His campaign, meanwhile, has kept the Bishop fireworks story alive by repeatedly calling for a Federal Elections Commission probe, and launching its own website.
"It's important we keep the focus of this race on jobs and the economy," Bishop said, "and the very stark choice that exists between me and my opponent on these issues."
The congressman repeated his denial of wrongdoing in his campaign requesting contributions from the constituent he helped with the fireworks permit, and said he'd cooperate with any "fair-minded review."
Either way, he acknowledged what lies ahead: "It's going to be a very, very intense race."
1st Congressional District
Rep. Tim Bishop, Democrat
CAREER: Five-term congressman representing the eastern Suffolk district; former provost of Southampton College
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from Holy Cross College, 1972; master's from Long Island University, 1981.
FAMILY: Wife, Kathryn; two grown children, Molly and Meghan
HOME: St. James
CAREER: chairman of the Norcross, Ga.-based electronics recycling company CloudBlue Technologies, which he co-founded; formerly chief executive of Office Tiger, a business services company
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from Princeton University, 1993; MBA from Harvard Business School, 1998
FAMILY: Wife, Cheryl; two children, Noah and Sasha