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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Long Island Republicans kicked it Old School on Election Day

Suffolk Republican chairman Jesse Garcia, shown, and his

Suffolk Republican chairman Jesse Garcia, shown, and his Nassau counterpart Joseph Cairo both marshaled their troops to get out the vote on Election Day on Tuesday. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Republican officials on Long Island kicked it Old School last week, as GOP supporters showed up at polling places on Election Day to cast their ballots — even as record numbers of Democrats in Nassau and Suffolk relied on absentee voting.

Jesse Garcia, Suffolk's GOP chairman, and Joseph Cairo, head of Nassau's Republican Party, are old hands at getting out the vote.

Cairo did so for years, operating out of a strip mall storefront as he marshaled a cadre of runners to go here, go there or go anywhere to encourage the faithful to make their way to the polls.

Garcia also dispatched his troops as town Republican chairman in Brookhaven, before becoming the party's county leader.

Recently, both chairmen acknowledged the challenges of campaigning, fundraising and pulling out the vote during the coronavirus pandemic.

But neither ever lost confidence.

Garcia said he intended to bring Suffolk home for President Donald Trump, who won the county in 2016.

"That's the plan," he said.

And, according to early unofficial results, that plan, thusfar at least, his plan is working.

Trump got a total of 333,100 votes on the Republican and Conservative Party lines, while Biden logged 258,007 votes on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.

Margins are much narrower in Nassau, where Trump got 286,633 votes on the Republican and Conservative lines. Biden received 280,115 votes on the Democratic and Working Families lines.

There also are tens of thousands of absentee ballots yet to be counted.

In 2016, Nassau went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The GOP appears to have easily held on to U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin's seat in the 1st Congressional District, which extends roughly from Smithtown to the East End. And Republican Andrew Garbarino looks to have beaten Democratic opponent Jackie Gordon in the 2nd, which is split between Nassau and Suffolk.

But while the federal contests drew considerable attention, the GOP, in both counties, also were in a New York State of mind.

The goal was to take out as many freshmen Democratic state senators from Nassau and Suffolk as they could — in a region that, not terribly long ago, had been home to the Long Island Nine of Republican state senators who, for decades, brought home the bacon for the region.

Until 2015, that group was unrivaled in channeling millions of dollars to Long Island's school districts, while also having a heavy hand in determining state policy, from clean water to homeland security issues, until the number of Democrats began to increase in the state Legislature.

Two years ago, Democrats won a clear Senate majority, as Democrats won six of Long Island's nine seats.

Cairo and Garcia — echoing the state GOP party — this year campaigned against those Democrats by painting them as too liberal for Long Island, and too beholden to New York City Democrats, whose interests, according to the party chiefs, do not align with those of Long Islanders.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk's Democratic chairman, is well aware of the challenges of campaigning as a Democrat in Suffolk.

"It's like campaigning in a purple state," Schaffer said.

Things have changed in Nassau as well.

"It's not like years ago, when everybody was a Republican," said Cairo, whose tenure with the party stretches back to the 1970s, when Nassau's GOP was considered one of the nation's most powerful political machines.

Which is why messaging during campaigns matters.

"We go out with the goal of persuading every voter we can," said Jay Jacobs, who chairs both Nassau's and New York State's Democratic Party organizations.

Even more important, the party chairmen agree, is getting out the vote.

On Long Island, as in the nation, much of that came via absentee, for Democrats.

"We wanted to run up and bank as many votes as we could," Jacobs said,

On Long Island, as in the nation, much of that came in person, and on Election Day, for Republicans.

"Republicans like Election Day," Garcia said. "Republicans like to hold that ballot, and feed it into the machine."

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