Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
While the race for Nassau County executive may grab the headlines, Republicans' one-seat edge in the 19-member Nassau Legislature is also at stake -- vital to whoever wins the county's top job but too close to call.
"This is a tight county now . . . We're not going to swamp anyone and no one is going to swamp us," said Joseph Mondello, Nassau GOP chairman, whose party once dominated the political landscape, but now trails Democrats in voter registration. He says the GOP will hold a legislative majority, but predicts nothing more.
"It's going to be tight and it all depends on turnout," agreed Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, who concedes the local GOP turnout has bested Democrats in off-year elections, despite the enrollment edge.
"I'm not ordering extra confetti, but we're going to win," Jacobs said. "Any voter who does not turn out should be prepared to be unhappy the day after election."
Republicans have one key advantage: They controlled the drawing of new district lines being used for the first time this year. The last time the GOP drew lines was in 1995 prior to the Legislature's creation. The GOP this year also won legal battles to knock five Democrats off ballot lines, allowing the GOP to devote resources to other key races.
Mondello says Republicans have held the line on property taxes and sees potential coattails from supervisors Kate Murray of Hempstead and John Venditto of Oyster Bay in key contests.
"It's all about taxes, taxes, taxes," Mondello said. "People don't want to pay any more money to government . . . Our party is telling people it's not going to happen."
Jacobs countered that the GOP has raised county fees by $100 million and shifted much of the cost of Nassau's broken assessment system to local school districts, raising residents' taxes.
Jacobs also said the political landscape has shifted since 2009, the height of the tea party's clout and the bottom of the economy, when Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi lost to Republican Edward Mangano by a scant 386 votes. Suozzi and Mangano are in a rematch on Nov. 5.
"I think there's anger over what's happening in Washington," Jacobs said. "You don't have to carry a sign to show anger -- just vote and Republicans will be shaking in their boots."
Political party leaders identified a half-dozen key legislative battlegrounds:
18th District: Republican Donald Mackenzie of Oyster Bay faces Democrat David Gugerty of Bayville for the open seat. Gugerty, an attorney, is now chief of staff for the Democratic minority in the Legislature and Mackenzie is a part-time local water commissioner. The seat opened when Democrat Delia DeRiggi Whitton was moved into the 11th District.
5th District: Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Debra Pugliese, both of Baldwin, are vying for the open seat that will be left vacant by the impending retirement of Legis. Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin). In redistricting, Republicans boosted Democratic numbers because they had not expected Scannell's exit.
13th District: Garden City firefighter Edward Kraus of Bellmore is challenging Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves of East Meadow. Gonsalves has faced past close races, but Republicans hope redistricting and her visibility as legislative presiding officer will help.
11th District: Republican John DiMascio, an attorney, is challenging DeRiggi Whitton, a freshman Democrat, in a reconfigured district that under old lines had been represented by Democratic Legis. Wayne Wink.
7th District: Republican incumbent Howard Kopel is facing a challenge from Democrat Lisa Daniels, an attorney, who is attacking the lawmaker for failing to return to Long Island after superstorm Sandy hit. Republicans say Kopel returned from a business trip on the first flight possible after Sandy. The GOP is attacking Daniels' work as a legal guardian.
19th District: Republicans have increased their enrollment in the district. But GOP insiders say their candidate Steven Rhoads, a lawyer and a Wantagh volunteer fireman, has an uphill fight against veteran incumbent David Denenberg, whose district has been made more Republican but who has represented those areas under past district configurations.