Rep. Peter King speaks outside his home after announcing he won't...

Rep. Peter King speaks outside his home after announcing he won't seek re-election on Nov. 11, 2019, in Seaford. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Rep. Peter King was among the two thousand or so Donald Trump supporters seated on the White House lawn last Thursday, the last day of the Republican National Convention.

"I was wearing a mask,"  King said the next day, as he was driving through Maryland, heading north to his home in Seaford. "I was lucky, because a lot of the people around me were wearing masks too."

Jesse Garcia, Suffolk's GOP chairman, didn't have to worry about that.

Early last week, Garcia said he'd planned to attend a Suffolk Young Republican club watch party to take it all in -- virtually.

Garcia said he expected Trump to speak on a lot of topics of interest to Long Island voters. "It's going to be good," Garcia said.

King, who has served in Congress during five presidential administrations, is not seeking reelection this year. 

He is retiring -- to more easily travel to North Carolina to see his daughter and grandchildren; to sort through the papers he intends to donate to Notre Dame University, where he attended law school; to puzzle out how he might teach a course, during a pandemic, to Notre Dame students; and to consider potential job opportunities.

King's departure leaves an open congressional seat; and -- in a rarity for Long Island -- a competitive one that straddles both Nassau and Suffolk counties.

That's where Garcia sees an opportunity.

On Thursday, Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate majority leader, implored convention viewers to consider Republicans not just for president, but for Congress as well.

Later another speaker issued the plea again, for offices right on down to mayor.

Garcia and Joseph Cairo, Nassau's GOP chairman, are hoping Long Island Republicans heed the call -- just as Jay Jacobs, the state and Nassau County Democratic Party chairman, is relying on Long Island Democrats to consider party candidates for election.

New York has a Democratic governor and Democrats controlling the state Assembly and Senate. On Long Island, both Nassau and Suffolk County executives are Democrats.

But Republicans control two of Nassau's three towns, and six of the 10 towns in Suffolk -- including four of the county's five western, and most populous ones.

If Long Island were a state -- and it is, by population and land mass, larger than several -- it would be purple, and thus a a swing state.

In the last presidential election, Trump carried Suffolk, while the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, took Nassau.

Trump last week hammered hard on a message of law and order.

It's part of Trump's message, Garcia said, that will resonate on Long Island.

Quick history:

During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Nassau Republicans campaigned on a variation of the same theme, pledging the GOP would not let Nassau turn into "the sixth borough." It was an effective message in a wealthy, white suburban county bordering significantly more diverse New York City.

That pledge helped keep Republicans in power for many years. It also proved incredibly effective in shutting down proposals for construction of multi-family housing which, Republicans said, would threaten the suburban "quality of life."

That rhetoric, experts said, began to soften as the region became more diverse, and as residents' demand for the once-unthinkable, such as apartments, began to build.

King was in office during much of that time.

And while he agrees with Garcia about using campaign messaging on law and order, "It's something you have to be careful with," he said.

Last week, in contrast to how Democrats handled their convention, Republicans had no virtual caucus meetings the public could livestream.

And that was just fine with Garcia, who, like Cairo, used that time to work local races.

Garcia said the convention, and Trump's speech, excited local GOP members.

"Excitement means more votes, more volunteers," said Garcia, a veteran of past national conventions.

Excitement also means more campaign contributions, for Republicans and Democrats both, in a year when the coronavirus pandemic has curbed traditional fundraising.

In addition, early voting this year could shorten the campaign season.

Early in-person voting begins Oct. 24.

But measures signed into law recently by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo  allow voters to cite COVID-19 and request absentee ballots now. 

Those ballots are slated to begin going out by mid-September, and they can be mailed as late as Election Day, Nov. 3, and still be counted.

Last week, as King sat awaiting Trump's acceptance speech, he saw an image of himself -- and Evelyn Rodriguez of Brentwood, whose high school daughter was killed, prosecutors say, by MS-13 members.

King and Rodriguez became close after the death of her daughter, Kayla Cuevas, and Cuevas' 15-year-old friend Nisa Mickens. Rodriguez, who became an anti-gang activist after the teens were killed, attended  Trump's 2018 State of the Union address in Washington, D.C. In September, Rodriguez died after she was hit by a car.

King said he thought about Rodriguez when he saw them together in the campaign video at the White House.

And he reflected about what it meant to sit on the lawn there as Trump delivered his address.

With Trump, "there are things I agree with and things I don't agree with," said King, who also had attended the White House service for Trump's brother, Robert.

"I was raised in Queens and here I am sitting on the South Lawn of the White House," he said. "It's incredible."

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