When retired Wall Street executive Adam Haber ran his first race -- for Roslyn school board -- five years ago against three incumbents, he learned his first political lesson.
"I got the most votes because I knocked on the most doors," he said.
Last year, when he ran against Thomas Suozzi in the Democratic primary for Nassau County executive, he knew all along he was in an uphill fight.
"I had a lot of Republican friends who were desperate to vote for me and tried to change their [party] registration, but it was too late," he said of his unsuccessful race against Suozzi.
Last week, Haber, 49, of East Hills, announced he would challenge two-term GOP state Sen. Jack M. Martins of Mineola in the 7th District. It'll be a key race in the statewide battle for Republicans to hang on to control of the Senate majority in a coalition with dissident Democrats.
"When you look from the outside, a lot of consultants are happy to take your money on how to get it done," said Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, who opposed Haber in the county executive race but backs him for State Senate. "But winning elections centers on meat-and-potato issues, getting out the vote and crafting a winning message, which is not as easy as it looks."
Haber said if elected, he would work for lower taxes, job creation and more school aid. He backs the Women's Equality Act to strengthen equal pay laws and extend protection from sexual harassment to employees of small businesses.
Martins says he doesn't expect an easy campaign but is ready for the matchup. Martins noted his vote to roll back the controversial MTA payroll tax, his backing of the property tax cap, and that he's pressed for increased economic development.
Martins' strengths include incumbency and his eight years of experience as mayor of Mineola. But voter registration in the 7th favors the Democrat by nearly 20,000. Martins won election by only 451 votes in 2010, but widened the margin to 4,452 when he was re-elected in 2012.
Desmond Ryan, a veteran GOP business lobbyist, said Haber, who largely self-financed his county executive run, "gained the experience to launch a campaign in a large Senate district and showed himself to be articulate and won credibility as a successful businessman."
Ryan added, "If money is the mother's milk of politics, then Adam Haber has a Dairy Barn at his disposal."
Republicans said Haber's money will work against him.
"Here is a wealthy guy who is trying to buy himself a Senate seat by taking out his checkbook when he couldn't win a primary in his own party," said Tony Santino, Nassau GOP spokesman.
Santino said voters realize Long Island interests are best represented by a GOP Senate when the governor, state comptroller, attorney general and the Assembly all are Democratic.
"The Republican Senate is the only check and balance left to defend the middle class . . . so the entire state does not fall into the hands of Democrats, who represent liberal New York City interests," Santino said.
But Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who is running for State Senate in the 8th District, said Haber's strength is that he shows no interest in partisan politics.
"Adam is obsessed with finding solutions," Denenberg said. "He says what he means and means what he says and that has gained him a lot of respect."