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Israel, Lally vie for 3rd Congressional District seat

The election in New York's 3rd Congressional District pits Rep. Steve Israel, a House Democratic leader who touts access to the Oval Office, against Republican attorney Grant Lally, who says he will serve as a counterpoint to the Obama administration.

Israel, 56, of Huntington, is seeking his eighth term in Congress, where he serves as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As head of the main fundraising arm for the minority House Democrats, he directs the party's efforts to elect more House Democrats.

Lally, 52, of Lloyd Harbor, is a Mineola civil attorney who worked for George W. Bush in Florida during the 2000 presidential recount. He touts advising the Bush administration on issues related to Ireland and Irish-American voters.

A common campaign issue

On the campaign trail, both candidates say the race boils down to addressing the economic needs of the middle class.

"This election is about the middle class," Israel said Sunday just before walking through the crowded Sea Cliff Mini Mart, an annual street festival. "It's about what kind of priorities are we focusing on to make the middle class more stable, more secure, more prosperous."

At a recent fundraiser in Jericho, headlined by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Lally spoke about the need to spur business development to keep New Yorkers from moving to less expensive states.

"We need to rebuild our economy and make our country once again a good place for middle-class families," Lally said in an interview after the event. "We have to ensure our kids have a future. We need to have economic growth -- a more positive regulatory environment that sends the message 'We're here, we're open for business, come create jobs.' "

The district spans most of Long Island's North Shore -- from northwest Suffolk, through northern Nassau and northern Queens, and includes the communities of Roslyn, Hicksville, Huntington and Dix Hills.

There are 192,720 registered Democrats, 152,366 Republicans, and 125,451 non-aligned with a major party in the district, according to the state Board of Elections.

Lally also has the backing of the Conservative Party, which has 6,441 registered voters in the district, and the Libertarian Party Israel has the backing of the Working Families Party, with 1,304 registered voters in the district, and the Independence Party, which has 20,139 registered voters.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said that despite the Democratic registration edge, Israel continues to campaign aggressively.

Israel has $1.7 million in campaign contributions on hand, compared with Lally's $17,873, according to the most recent federal campaign finance reports, which reflect money raised through June 30.

"Steve Israel is a good politician," Levy said. "No matter where he is traveling around the country to help his colleagues, he's going to keep a very close eye on what's happening back home in his district."

Lally takes on the challenge

In July, Lally defeated Republican primary challenger Stephen A. Labate, a Deer Park financial planner, by 11 votes to have the chance to run against Israel.

Labate and Israel have criticized Lally on a $280,000 fine he received from the Federal Elections Commission in 1998 for accepting illegal campaign donations during the 1994 election, and falsely reporting them. Lally has said he agreed to pay the fine because it would have cost him more in legal fees to defend himself, and contends the fine was politically motivated.

Meanwhile, Lally often charges that Israel is more focused on the DCCC than the needs of his district.

Israel, a former Town of Huntington councilman, says his current leadership post has allowed him access to President Barack Obama to help shape legislation.

Israel points to 2012, when Obama sought to "terminate the Bush tax cuts except for people making up to $250,000 because he believed that $250,000 makes you rich."

"My leadership in Congress put me in the Oval Office, where I told him '$250,000 may make you rich in Huntington, West Virginia, not Huntington Long Island,' " Israel said.

Congress eventually passed a measure that maintained the tax cuts for individuals earning up to $400,000 or married couples earning up to $450,000.

Last week, Israel introduced legislation responding to the backlash over the federally sponsored Common Core educational standards, which rely heavily on standardized testing. His bill -- Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing Act -- would permit states to use an alternative testing schedule from third to eighth grades, cutting the number of tests students take in half.

"I think the testing aspects of Common Core have undermined its intent and its effectiveness," Israel said.

Lally calls the standards a federal "mandate" on local school districts, and advocates for local control over the K-12 curriculum. "Fundamentally, I believe local school districts should make that choice," Lally said.

The two have sparred over their position on abortion. Lally says he is pro-abortion rights, but does not support late-term abortions.

Israel, who has voted against bills seeking to ban late-term abortions, contends that Lally "cannot be trusted" on the issue because he is endorsed by the Conservative Party, which opposes abortion.

Israel said he supports the Affordable Care Act, but said the program's rollout last year was a "disaster" that "must be fixed."

Lally said he would vote to repeal the act and instead supports "free-market solutions," such as extending health care tax deductions to individuals.

The candidates

Steve Israel

Party: Democrat

Age: 56

Hometown: Huntington

Education/Career: Israel, who is also running on the Working Families Party and Independence Party lines, has served in Congress since 2001. He serves as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and previously served on the House Appropriations Committee. He served as a Huntington Town Board member from 1993 to 2001. From 1992 to 1997 he was a partner in Israel-Norman Communications, a public relations firm. He attended Nassau Community College before graduating from George Washington University.

Family: Single/Divorced; Two grown daughters.

Campaign fund: In 2013-2014 cycle, through June 30, raised: $3,129,036; spent: $1,715,406; cash on hand: $1,749,653

Grant Lally

Party: Republican

Age: 52

Hometown: Lloyd Harbor

Education/Career: Lally, who is also running on the Conservative and Libertarian party lines, is a managing partner at Lally & Misir LLP , a Mineola law firm. He worked for George W. Bush in the Florida presidential recount battle in 2000. Lally ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1994 and 1996 against then-Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman. He received his bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University, a law degree from Boston University School of Law and an advanced law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He is the son of former New York State Supreme Court Justice Ute Lally.

Family: Married to attorney Deborah Misir, the couple is expecting their first child.

Campaign fund: From Jan. 1 through June 30 of this year, raised: $74,178; spent: $56,305; cash on hand: $17,873

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