Republican State Sen. Lee Zeldin won a bruising GOP congressional primary victory Tuesday night, surviving an aggressive $2 million campaign by challenger George Demos, who had the backing of former Gov. George Pataki and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Zeldin, of Shirley, overcame a relentless eight-month mail and TV onslaught from Demos, who outspent him more than 3-1. Demos' ads claimed that Zeldin voted in Albany for Obamacare, a charge that Zeldin just as heatedly called a lie.
The primary win means Zeldin, 34, a two-term Albany lawmaker, will get a rematch with six-term Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). In 2008, Bishop defeated him by more than 50,000 votes in Zeldin's first political race.
Calling the victory "extra special for me and my family," Zeldin said, "We have got the opportunity to change Washington by changing the people we send to represent us."
Zeldin was boosted by a get-out-the-vote effort by the county GOP committee. Zeldin also was backed by local and state GOP and Conservative leaders, and he was endorsed by more than 60 local officials and several former presidential contenders, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Zeldin also won despite the fact that he had to spend three days a week in Albany since January during the legislative session, while Demos, 37, a former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer, was campaigning full-time.
"Obviously, we came up just a little short, or maybe a lot short. But we fought the good fight for conservative values," Demos told supporters.
Demos 37, spent eight months attacking Zeldin, saying he voted for a state budget that included spending for a state insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
Zeldin said he opposed Obamacare and would fight to repeal it in Washington. Zeldin said the vote Demos cited was a $3.5 million re-appropriation of Medicaid funding from an earlier budget. Zeldin said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo implemented changes by executive order after Senate Republicans would not vote for it.
Demos said Zeldin should have voted against the budget that included spending for the exchange.
Zeldin touted himself as the hometown candidate who graduated from William Floyd High School and interned for State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Zeldin served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and is a major in the Army Reserve. Zeldin lost to Bishop in 2008, but two years later ousted State Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point) by opposing the MTA payroll tax.
Zeldin tried to paint Demos as a political opportunist, noting that he was raised in Manhattan, educated at the exclusive Trinity School and only summered on Shelter Island. He said Demos only rented locally when it came time to run for office. "His only connection to Long Island is the Midtown Tunnel," Zeldin said.
Zeldin also attacked Demos for getting his campaign money from his father-in-law, a wealthy West Coast developer, and California Democrats who have backed Pelosi. Demos said he "hates" Pelosi and that the public does not believe he has any political ties to her.
In other congressional primaries:
In the 3rd District Republican primary, Grant M. Lally, an attorney, was leading Stephen A. Labate, a financial planner by about 100 votes in a very close race. Labate, 46, of Deer Park, is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves who has been activated three times since Sept. 11, 2001. Lally, 52, of Lloyd Harbor, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1994 and 1996 against then-Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman. The winner will face Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) in November.
In the 5th District Democratic primary, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, 60, who is seeking his eighth term, defeated accountant Joseph R. Marthone, 53.
Meeks, of St. Albans, Queens, is a ranking member of the Financial Institutions Subcommittee and a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. Marthone, of Jamaica, Queens, has worked as a community organizer and is a founding chairman of the Lady Mitz Foundation, which focuses on HIV/AIDS education.
The district is Queens-based but includes Elmont, North Valley Stream and Inwood.
With David Schwartz