After 15 months, it is already Long Island's longest-running congressional campaign and even before this month's primary, the price tag on the 1st District race already had approached $4 million.
But as Republican primary winner Randy Altschuler and four-term Democratic Rep. Timothy Bishop enter the final sprint to Nov. 2, an already heated contest is now turning incendiary, with battle lines stretching to Washington, and even to India.
Seeking to capitalize on voter ire over the economy, millionaire businessman Altschuler says Bishop is too liberal for the district and too ready to spend and go into debt - voting "97 percent of the time" with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Despite a Bishop ad claiming he opposes financial bailouts, Altschuler said: "He voted for all the bailouts. He's wasted a lot of money and gotten no return on it."
But Bishop, facing his toughest re-election yet, paints Altschuler in television ads as an "outsourcing pioneer" who, as a businessman, exported thousands of American jobs to Asia - and now is using the money he made to buy a congressional seat. "New York-1 is not for sale," Bishop told backers at a rally a week ago, adding that there's "nothing patriotic" about "sending jobs to India when Americans are out of work."
The sharp back-and-forth highlights both the divergent backgrounds and the conflicting political views of Bishop and Altschuler.
Bishop, 60, a Southampton native, votes reliably Democratic in the House, including on major issues such as health care reform and the bailout of the financial and insurance industries. In the current Congress, he has voted with his party 97.3 percent of the time, according to The Washington Post - though Bishop called the percentage "meaningless" because so many votes are "routine."
Altschuler, 39, who is making his first run for elected office and first moved to the district in 2007, describes himself as a fiscal conservative who favors pro-growth policies and a balanced-budget amendment. He opposes tax hikes and wants the recent health-care overhaul repealed.
Bishop defends bailout vote
Bishop says he backed the bailout at the height of the fiscal crisis because the legislation's failure would have plunged the economy into a deeper chasm. He said his ad referred to new legislation to create procedures to prevent the need for new bailouts. He also touts a newly approved bill that will mean $300 billion in lending for small business.
Bishop's sharpest attacks focus on Altschuler's former company OfficeTiger, which supplied back-office jobs from Asia to American and foreign companies. Altschuler and a partner later sold the company for $250 million.
Altschuler said the company did not outsource American jobs but supplied back-office services so firms in this country and elsewhere could free their workers from grunt work, so they could be more productive.
Bishop backers respond that Altschuler can't back away from years of interviews and videos in which he touted his firm's outsourcing prowess.
Altschuler, meanwhile, touts what he calls a proven record of job creation in the United States - over 700, including 250 in New York - and another 250 with his new company Cloud Blue, which recycles electronic equipment for corporations.
By contrast, Altschuler lays blame at Bishop for the downfall of Southampton College, where he was provost before his 2002 election. Stony Brook University, which took over the college, has closed the majority of the campus. "He was CEO and it failed," Altschuler said.
Bishop aides call it a "real stretch" to tag Bishop with the closing eight years after he left the school and it had been taken over by the state.
Nonpartisan handicappers list the 1st District contest as one of about 80 races in the country considered competitive, but not among the 30 rated as toss-ups. The district, says the Rothenberg Political Report, leans Democratic. "There's no question that Bishop is vulnerable," said Nathan Gonzales, Rothenberg's political editor. "But it's a question of degree."
Backers say Altschuler came out of the GOP and Conservative primaries with momentum and increased name recognition.
LaValle, who once called outsourcing a "death knell" to Altschuler's candidacy, now says the primary "puts the issue behind him." But Democrats say Altschuler was damaged by the pummeling he took from primary foes, noting a majority of GOP voters opposed him.
More Republicans in district
While Republicans have an enrollment edge in the 1st - 154,750 to 129,382 - another 111,378 registered voters are not aligned with any political party. Voters in the district sided by a small margin with Democrats in the past several presidential elections.
Bishop also has strong union support as well as that of the Long Island Contractors Association, which represents 150 heavy construction companies and usually tilts Republican. The group is donating money to Bishop, and for the first time is making an outright endorsement. "When the seat flips no one gains," said executive director Marc Herbst. "He's now in a position to deliver for Long Island and he has bent over backwards in the job."
Meanwhile, tea party activists, whose protest at a Bishop community forum first raised a red flag about his re-election, are licking their wounds. They opposed Altschuler in the primary because of his poor voting record, his former membership in the Green Party and outsourcing.
"It was a long bloody primary and people were very emotional," said Frank Seabrook, a tea party blogger. "But at the end of the day the tea party and the Republicans will come together because we have not forgotten why we started this."