Dawidziak: Bishop-Altschuler II heating up

At left, Randy Altschuler attends a Veterans Day

At left, Randy Altschuler attends a Veterans Day ceremony in Smithtown. At right, Rep. Tim Bishop attends a rally at Stony Brook University. (Nov. 11, 2010, and Oct. 27, 2010) (Credit: James Carbone)

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We can now proceed to the main event. George Demos announced Friday that he was dropping out of the Republican primary race in New York's 1st Congressional District, so the way is officially cleared for the bout to watch on Long Island this year. Republican Randy Altschuler will again try to unseat incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop.

The contest two years ago had a razor-thin margin, and this year's rematch promises to be every bit as exciting. It might not be Ali-Frazier II, but with scant few competitive races on Long Island this year, it will do for a media and electorate itching to see a fight.

In 2010, Bishop won by a mere 593 votes out of around 200,000 cast. But it could be even more competitive this year. Political analysts are looking at several factors that could swing votes, and therefore the election.


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Most important could be that Altschuler pulled off the endorsement of the Independence Party, a ballot line that Bishop had in 2010. Bishop received 7,370 votes on that line -- way more than he won by. This alone could make Altschuler the favorite this year. But it isn't the only factor that will affect the outcome.

Two years ago, the winner was in doubt until the official recount was over and all the absentee ballots were counted. Surprising to many veteran campaign observers, Bishop actually picked up votes among the absentees. With a large number of wealthy travelers, second-home owners and military ballots, a Republican should always win the absentee voters in this area. Without being privy to either campaign's playbook, I think the best explanation is that Bishop's campaign had one bang-up absentee ballot program, or at least a far better one than Altschuler's campaign. That oversight is not likely to be repeated this year.

Then there are the wild-card factors that could have a deciding effect. One is the certain infusion of cash on both sides from super PACs. The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates on how much money unions, corporations and individuals could funnel into races, and its effect was already visible two years ago. After the race, Bishop wrote in this paper that more than $1 million from anonymous donors had been spent to try to unseat him. With this year's race again on the national radar, a repeat is almost a certainty. Expect a lot more to be spent promoting and attacking both candidates.

The biggest unknown factor might very well be the effect of the presidential race. My company's current polls in the district have President Barack Obama in the mid- to high-40s (about 47 percent) to Mitt Romney's low 40s (about 41 percent). Anytime incumbent presidents are below 50 percent, they are vulnerable.

The current numbers promise a presidential contest in this district that is every bit as competitive as the race for Congress. The presidential race affects not only how people might vote but who'll come out to the polls in the first place. Four years ago, for example, young people voted for the first time in record numbers, for Obama.

Demos' departure sounded the bell for round one -- and both camps used the occasion to throw some punches. Voters can expect to be inundated with television and radio commercials, mailings and telephone calls. In this race, the price of democracy promises to be very steep indeed. But for a rare contested seat in the Congress, the money will be there to pay it.

Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.

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