Former CNN anchor John Avlon beat chemist Nancy Goroff in the closely watched 1st Congressional District Democratic primary Tuesday. NewsdayTV's Virginia Huie reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Former CNN anchor John Avlon beat chemist Nancy Goroff in the closely watched 1st Congressional District Democratic primary on Tuesday, according to unofficial Suffolk County Board of Elections returns.

As of 11 p.m., with 98% of votes counted, Avlon had 70.2% to Goroff's 29.6%., according to the BOE.

Avlon will face incumbent Rep. Nick LaLota in the Nov. 5 general election.

Avlon declared victory Tuesday night in a speech to supporters at Riverhead Brew House in Riverhead.

“Today we proved that the positive defeats the negative,” Avlon said.

“Today we showed the politics of addition can defeat the politics of division and that's going to be the key to finally flipping this swing seat and winning in November,” he said.

“Now is the time for all Suffolk County Democrats to come together,” Avlon said. “We need to unite so we can fire up the base and then because Democrats are in fact the last big party that believes in bipartisanship we need to reach out with clarity and confidence to get to the real business going — winning this election and winning back Congress.”

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In a statement congratulating Avlon, Goroff called it, “imperative that all Democrats now come together to defeat Nick LaLota and flip this seat in November.”

Goroff said Avlon “will be a commonsense voice for the people of Suffolk in Washington and a vast improvement over LaLota who has proven to be far too extreme for this district. The people of Suffolk deserve a representative who will work hard and find solutions to the major problems facing our community, and that is John Avlon.”

Republicans said they were are confident LaLota will keep the seat.

Savannah Viar, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement that Avlon “leaves this primary bruised and with more baggage than what he packed for his temporary trip to Long Island from his permanent residence in Manhattan. No amount of posturing will fool voters into thinking he is anything other than an opportunist who only wants to see himself on television. Rep. LaLota has been delivering for Long Island since he took office and will continue to do so.”

Avlon, who owns a Manhattan condominium, switched his voter registration to Suffolk County in 2020, county Board of Elections records show. Avlon has not said when he moved to Sag Harbor, only that he purchased his home there in 2017.

Avlon, 51, of Sag Harbor, is a journalist, author and political commentator who registered as a Democrat in August and left his job at CNN in February to run for Congress.

Goroff, 56, of Stony Brook, is a former chair of the Stony Brook University chemistry department who unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2020. She lost to former U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) by nearly 10 percentage points that year.

During the campaign, Avlon and Goroff each said, if elected, they would protect reproductive rights, restore the state and local tax (SALT) deduction and support a ban on assault rifles.

Both tried to position themselves as the better candidate to flip the seat from red to blue in November.

Avlon stressed Goroff’s past loss to Zeldin, while Goroff suggested that Avlon was more Republican than Democrat in outlook.

Ads backing Goroff paid for by 314 Action PAC, which works to elect scientists, criticized Avlon for his past role as a speechwriter and policy adviser for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican.

Goroff’s messaging drew a strong rebuke from Nassau County and State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, who said attacking a fellow Democrat in a primary exposes a candidate’s “selfishness.”

Avlon won the support of many Long Island Democratic officials including Jacobs, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), former Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and several town Democratic committees. Filmmaker Ken Burns endorsed Avlon, while actor Mark Hamill hosted a fundraising event for Avlon on Friday.

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer did not make an endorsement in the primary.

Avlon supporters argued he would give Democrats a fighting chance to take back the 1st District seat, which extends from Huntington to Montauk.

Goroff’s supporters pointed to her community ties and her decades working for local Democrats.

David Gilmartin, 52, of Sag Harbor said his decision Tuesday came down to which candidate he believed has the best chance of winning in November and “making the House blue again.”

He said he was “concerned” by the margin Nancy Goroff lost in the 2020 election against Zeldin.

“I think she’s a good candidate, too, but I think Avlon just has an edge over her and a better chance to win in the general election,” Gilmartin said. “Both support similar values.”

The 1st District is a longtime swing district that was held by Democrat Tim Bishop from 2003 to 2015 and Zeldin from 2015 to 2023.

The district has 195,332 registered Democrats, 191,491 Republicans and 174,734 voters who are not affiliated with a political party, according to the most recent data from the state Board of Elections.

Both the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political newsletter from the University of Virginia Center for Politics, have labeled the seat as “Likely Republican” this year.

Avlon and Goroff spent millions of dollars this year in the primary.

As of June 5, Avlon’s campaign had raised a total of $1.76 million, while Goroff’s campaign had raised $2.3 million, including a $1.2 million loan she made to the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Avlon’s camp called the fundraising difference an “enthusiasm gap” between the two campaigns and accused Goroff of trying to buy the seat.

Goroff representatives pushed back against those assertions and noted the campaign had more than 300 volunteers who knocked on more than 14,000 doors.

LaLota has about $1.8 million cash on hand, campaign finance records show.

With Virginia Huie, Deborah S. Morris, Joshua Needelman and Joe Werkmeister.

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