Republicans and Democrats in hotly contested congressional races have been forced to walk a fine line on their support for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, especially in light of scandals swirling this month around both presidential nominees.
Trump saw a polling slide amid his remarks disparaging women, groping allegations and his stirring of doubts over whether he will accept the election results. Clinton faces renewed controversy over her handling of emails while secretary of state as the FBI announced a surprise review of new information.
But experts said top-of-the-ticket troubles won’t necessarily doom or even hurt down-ballot contenders on Long Island, where voters are known to split their tickets among parties.
“There are New Yorkers who are comfortable voting for a ‘D’ for one office and an ‘R’ for another office,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg, citing Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer’s consistent support among right-leaning voters.
Bohemia-based political consultant Michael Dawidziak, who works primarily with Republicans, also said ticket-splitters make up much of the suburban and moderate electorate.
“The largest-growing segment of population has been the independents, the unaffiliated voters,” Dawidziak said.
In a presidential election year in which Democrats are fighting for a bigger foothold in the House and possible control of the Senate, Clinton had sought to help her party gain local seats.
But 11 days before the election, the FBI said it is reviewing Clinton-linked emails despite closing the case into her use of a private server in July without recommending criminal charges. The agency reportedly found information on a computer seized during a probe into the sexting of former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, estranged husband to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
The National Republican Congressional Committee sought immediately to capitalize on the news by criticizing Democrats in congressional races, asking if they’re “still standing” with Clinton.
It’s possible that the invective of the White House race could turn off voters so much that they will sit out the whole election — congressional races included, experts said.
“Does it depress the other sides’ voters, which is good for me, or my sides,’ which is bad for me?” Greenberg said House contenders should ask themselves of turnout.
Two local contests are among the country’s most competitive.
The Cook Political Report has rated the 3rd Congressional District race, in which Democrat Thomas Suozzi faces Republican Jack Martins for the seat left open by retiring Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) as “likely Democratic.”
The Washington, D.C.-based site sees the 1st District election, in which freshman GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin faces Democratic challenger Anna Throne-Holst, as leaning Republican.
Throne-Holst appears to be banking on the Trump effect helping in her bid. She ran ads highlighting Zeldin’s continued support of Trump and said last week, “I fail to see how anyone with any moral compass could ever even consider supporting him.”
But the former Southampton Town supervisor — running against a GOP incumbent in a conservative district — also has sought to distinguish her candidacy from that of Clinton’s.
“It’s my own campaign,” Throne-Holst said. “It’s based on my track record, my experience and how I stand on the issues.”
Zeldin (R-Shirley) has defended Trump’s comments about the Mexican heritage of a federal judge by saying it can be “easily argued” that President Barack Obama is racist. The freshman congressman also labeled as “indefensible” leaked audio of Trump boasting in 2005 he can grope any woman he wants.
Zeldin’s campaign did not make him available for an interview.
His spokeswoman said Trump is currently poised to beat Clinton in the district, so Throne-Holst’s backing of Clinton is more of an issue than Zeldin’s support for Trump.
“Our campaign remains focused on positive, bipartisan solutions,” Jennifer DiSiena said. “That truly gets to the heart of why there is so much support and momentum for Congressman Zeldin no matter what is going on with the presidential race.”
Throne-Holst had said her internal polling shows Clinton up in the district.
Farther west, GOP state Sen. Martins has been more critical of his party’s presidential pick than Zeldin in his district.
Martins and Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, said they want to differentiate their race from the presidential one.
“I’m as much responsible for Trump’s comments as a congressional candidate as Suozzi is for Hillary’s email server fiasco,” Martins said.
“I’m a delegate for Hillary, but my campaign is not about Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump,” Suozzi said.
With Paul LaRocco