Their backgrounds, election strategies and -- especially -- the size of their campaign war chests are far apart, but the Democratic candidates seeking to succeed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in the 4th District have nearly-identical platforms.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice greeted commuters in Rockville Centre last week with palm cards featuring the phrase "fighting for Long Island families." The literature touted priorities such as "building on Carolyn McCarthy's efforts to combat gun violence," and "demanding equal pay for women, and protecting a woman's right to choose."
Several days later, Rice's opponent in the June 24 primary, Nassau Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams, visited homes in Westbury with cards titled "Your next fighter in Congress." He promised to continue McCarthy's "fight to protect families from gun violence" and be "100 percent committed to protecting women's rights" including "equal pay" and women's "right to choose."
In the district -- which has 206,000 registered Democrats, more than any of the other three districts based largely on Long Island -- such stances are expected in the party primary.
But while Rice and Abrahams agree on the issues, they hope to distinguish themselves on their past experience.
Rice, 49, of Garden City, has often attended speaking events and highlighted her endorsements while touting her nine years as the top Nassau prosecutor. She says she has aggressively pursued DWI offenders and corrupt government officials while launching educational initiatives on topics including Internet crime and heroin abuse. She touts backing by McCarthy and large municipal and trade labor unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers.
"I've spent my entire career as a problem solver," Rice said. "People want to hear how you'll make their lives better."
Abrahams, 39, of Freeport, has spent weeks knocking on doors, delivering the pitch that his experience makes him better tailored for Congress. He has served on the legislature for 12 years, the last three as minority leader. He says he worked with Republicans to secure superstorm Sandy relief funds and touts support for the $229 million plan to renovate the Nassau Coliseum, which Nassau estimates will generate more than 2,500 new jobs.
"I have more legislative experience than any other candidate," Abrahams said. "This is a legislative position, not an executive or prosecutor position."
The 4th District, which McCarthy represented since 1997, spans 110 square miles across central-southern Nassau, from Westbury to Long Beach.
The Rice-Abrahams primary is unusual because Jay Jacobs, the county Democratic chairman, has declined to back a candidate, citing Rice's and Abrahams' long-standing relationships with the party.
So far, Rice has far outdistanced Abrahams in fundraising. As of June 4, Rice had raised $2.1 million, spent $638,245 and had $1.5 million in cash on hand. Abrahams had raised $162,132, spent $112,135 and had $49,996 in cash on hand.
On a recent evening in Westbury, Abrahams, with his shirtsleeves rolled up and a bottle of water in his back pocket, said he was confident his outreach to voters would compensate for the large cash gap. He estimated that he'd knocked on 40,000 doors since March -- losing 12 pounds in the process.
At the home of Pat Gardner, 62, a fitness trainer, Abrahams raised the recent primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who had outraised his little-known opponent, David Brat, by a huge margin. "It goes to show that you can have money and power, but if you're not in your district you can lose," Abrahams said.
Abrahams told Gardner that, if elected, he'd hold more town hall meetings in the district. Gardner, who said she plans to vote for Abrahams, asked him, "If you get in, what next?"
"I think my wife would be happy if I stayed in Congress," Abrahams replied, smiling.
Rice met several commuters at the Long Island Rail Road station in Rockville Centre who wanted to know her top issues. Standing in a dark suit and low heels on the platform, she identified college affordability and immigration reform.
Lee Epstein, 55, an accountant from Oceanside, was waiting for a train to see a Rangers' Stanley Cup Final game when he asked Rice about her plans. "I don't know the gentleman you're running against," Epstein said, "but I think you'd do a good job."
Rice told him she'd "reduce red tape for small businesses," and "carry on the work Carolyn has been doing" on gun control. She often introduced herself by name to voters, repeating the June 24 primary date.
"It's so frustrating to go into a voting booth and not know who the people are," Rice said. "I'm trying to let people know about me and my record."