Candidates seeking to succeed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy this fall may ultimately need to spend at least $2 million -- and get significant help from outside groups -- to compete, political leaders and analysts say.
McCarthy (D-Mineola) announced last week that she wouldn't seek a 10th term representing Nassau's 4th Congressional District, turning a seat that had been low on the national radar into a potential battleground. Democrats have the enrollment edge, and President Barack Obama got 57 percent of the vote there in 2012, but the district was historically GOP before McCarthy and still has large conservative swaths.
"The committees will probably throw all the money in the world at this race," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily with Republicans. "Open congressional seats don't come along often, and this is one anybody could win."
Local party chairmen say their preferred candidates should emerge within weeks, from a pool of Democrats including Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and county legislators Kevan Abrahams of Freeport and David Denenberg of Merrick, and Republicans such as Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, Legis. Francis X. Becker Jr. of Lynbrook and attorney Frank Scaturro.
Becker and Scaturro, who previously ran for the seat, have nearly no cash in their federal accounts, while none of the other officials can directly access their state war chests -- $2 million for Rice, $207,000 for Murray, $65,000 for Abrahams and $57,000 for Denenberg.
Those candidates, however, may still be able to replicate those local dollars, either by refunding donors and asking them to give to their federal campaign or by transferring funds to a committee eligible to give to a congressional race.
Dems' poll: Rice in lead
Rice, who acknowledged through a spokesman that she's taking a "hard look" at running, would defeat Denenberg, her next closest potential primary opponent, by 25 points, according to an internal poll last week by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She also was the subject of a public records request made by the National Republican Congressional Committee to her office, as the opposition prepares for her possible run.
Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the 4th District's recent voting makes Democrats the favorites, especially if Rice, with her fundraising prowess, is the candidate.
"If Republicans want to make a play, they're not only going to have to find a candidate who can raise a lot of money, but they themselves are going to have to spend a whole lot of money to move the needle," Kondik said.
A blueprint for 4th District spending could be the 2012 race between Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and GOP businessman Randy Altschuler. Republicans prioritized that 1st District race, with their political action committees contributing most of the $4 million in independent spending.
Additionally, Bishop and Altschuler combined to spend about $6 million from their own campaign accounts. Bishop held on to the seat by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.
Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs predicted that each 4th District candidate would need to spend "at a minimum, $1.5 million, but it could go as much as $2.5 million." He said the timing of McCarthy's announcement provides ample opportunity to raise funds.
"There is more than enough time," Jacobs said last week, noting that the congressional campaign committee can call upon loyal PACs and unions to quickly raise initial funds.
The Nassau GOP declined to speculate on what their candidate would have to spend to be competitive, but chairman Joseph Mondello said he expects to have someone chosen to run "within the next few weeks."
National groups gear up
Already, the national congressional committees are staking out general campaign strategies, with the GOP emphasizing problems with the rollout of President Barack Obama's signature health care reform, and Democrats highlighting voter frustration with GOP tactics that helped partly shut the federal government down last year.
"This is going to be a competitive seat," said Republican committee spokesman Ian Prior. "We expect that problems with Obamacare will continue to be a drag on Democratic candidates throughout the country, as voters realize just how damaging it was to allow Democrats to control all levers of government [in 2009] to create a piece of legislation that is now having such a negative impact on Long Island's middle class and small businesses."
But Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), the Democratic committee chairman, said that the 4th District likely won't see the same spending as the 1st District did in 2012 -- and that the voters who kept McCarthy in office for 18 years will ensure that her seat remains in his party.
"It's a Democratic-leaning district that rejects extremism and shutdowns, and any Republican running with the House Republican brand will have an exceedingly difficult time," Israel said.