Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), who earlier this year appeared to write off the idea of making a second bid for Congress in 2018, seems to be having second thoughts.
Gregory’s mulling comes in the wake of Democrats’ Alabama Senate upset, fallout over the new tax cut law and President Donald Trump’s continued tumble in the polls.
“I’m torn,” Gregory said. “Every day I’ve been going back and forth with everything coming out of Washington.” He says he will decide in January.
Gregory last year ran an uphill campaign against 25-year veteran Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). At the time, there was speculation King might not run again or get an appointment as ambassador to Ireland, and even a losing run could help Gregory gain the nomination should the seat open up.
But national Democrats never targeted the race and Gregory raised just $400,000, losing to King 181,506 to 107,725, even though 69 percent of the electorate in that district now comes from Suffolk.
Gregory, 48, who has run for office in three successive campaign cycles, earlier indicated he would probably take a bye in next year’s midterm election, where turnout is usually lower than a presidential year, which is usually more favorable to the party that does not hold the White House.
He believes GOP missteps will energize Democrats in 2018 while more Republican voters may sit home. “Republicans have made a huge mistake with this tax bill and talk about going after Social Security and Medicare to pay for it,” Gregory said.
Rich Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Gregory gave Democrats “the best chance to win” because of his high-profile role as legislative leader, his repeated re-election as a legislator and his experience running a tough congressional race. He expects national Democrats to target both King and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) next year.
King, 73, of Seaford, said he was unconcerned about those lining up. “The more the merrier,” he said. “Whoever the Democrats pick is fine with me.”
Suffolk Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, the GOP caucus leader, said King opposed the tax bill and local voters know that he has always battled for then. “I don’t see how he can be tarnished by the tax bill and he has always had impeccable ethical qualifications,” he said.
Despite King’s past popularity, Schaffer said, “Every Republican congressman is imperiled, whether they said yes or no on the tax bills. Republicans trashed the middle class and rewarded millionaires with tax cuts. Middle-class voters want someone who will stand up for them.”
However, Schaffer’s backing does not guarantee Gregory the nomination and he could face a primary from party progressives. Activist Liuba Grechen Shirley, who claims an army of more than 2,400 campaign volunteers, has already announced her candidacy, while Sayville businessman Tim Gomes loaned his own campaign $1 million to make the race.
Josh Henderson, Grechen Shirley’s campaign manager, downplayed Gregory’s possible entry into the race. “The voters are looking for new voices who can go toe to toe with the same old Long Island politicians,” he said, noting Grechen Shirley has 1,300 grass roots donors and her campaign finance filing next month will be in “six figures.” Gomes on Friday unexpectedly suspended his campaign, citing “business and personal obligations.”
Gregory scoffs at the idea he is not progressive enough, noting he was on the front lines last year against King when no one else was willing to run. “Everyone has the right to run,” Schaffer said. “But they did not step up in 2016 and the deference has to go to the one who did step up in 2016.”