As Democrat Robert Zimmerman opened his congressional campaign headquarters in Plainview in early October, he stressed his opposition to any national abortion ban, and his backing of stricter gun laws and repeal of the SALT tax deduction cap.
"These are the issues that have defined my life. This is my community. These are my neighbors," said Zimmerman, 68, of Great Neck, who has lived in the district since he was 9 years old.
At a rally in Bethpage the following week, Republican George Santos, Zimmerman's opponent in the 3rd Congressional District race, decried Democrats' handling of issues such as crime, inflation and the rising cost of energy.
"The American dream is at stake — the same American dream myself and my family came to this country for," said Santos, 34, of Whitestone, Queens.
"As a first generation American, I see that dream under assault today in both Albany and Washington, D.C.," Santos said.
As the Nov. 8 election nears, Zimmerman and Santos, who are seeking to fill the open seat that Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) is vacating, are courting both their political bases and the large number of district voters who are not registered with a political party.
Political experts say those nonaligned voters may be key to victory in the competitive 3rd District, one of three open House seats on Long Island.
"It's no longer just about how many registered Democrats versus Republicans live there," said Hank Sheinkopf, an independent political analyst who has consulted for Democrats.
"We are still listing it as a toss-up," Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political newsletter at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said of the 3rd District race.
"It's an open seat so you naturally expect it to be more competitive," Kondik told Newsday.
Democrats have an enrollment edge in the district.
According to the most recent data from the state Board of Elections, the district has 228,153 registered Democrats, 161,505 Republicans and 155,995 voters not affiliated with either party.
The remainder were registered with minor political parties.
In the 2020 presidential election, voters in the 3rd District went 54% for Democrat Joe Biden and 45% for Republican Donald Trump.
The district, redrawn after the 2020 census, encompasses Queens communities such as Whitestone, Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck and Queens Village.
In Nassau, the district extends along the North Shore and dips south to include Hicksville, Levittown and Massapequa.
Zimmerman, co-owner of ZE Creative Communications, a public relations firm he helped found 33 years ago, won a five-way Democratic primary in August to become the party's candidate in the general election.
Zimmerman has been a member of the Democratic National Committee since 2000.
He's also a longtime Democratic activist, political fundraiser and political commentator on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.
Zimmerman ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1982, and also lost races for New York State Assembly in 1986 and 1988.
Like Santos, Zimmerman is openly gay.
Santos, the son of Brazilian immigrants, is an economist and investor who has worked for large financial institutions.
He is self-employed as an investor in financial capital markets, and is listed as a managing member of his family's trust company, Devolder Family Office.
Santos ran unsuccessfully against Suozzi in the 3rd District in 2020.
Both candidates tout their political endorsements.
Zimmerman is backed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former New York City and Boston Police Commissioner William Bratton.
Planned Parenthood, LGBT Victory Fund -- which seeks to increase the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials -- and Moms Demand Action, a nonprofit gun control group, also support Zimmerman.
Santos is endorsed by all Nassau County's law enforcement unions — the Police Benevolent Association, Detectives Association Inc., Superior Officers Association and Correction Officers Benevolent Association — and by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association.
Zimmerman raised $2.2 million from January through the end of September, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission campaign filings.
He spent about $1.6 million during the reporting period, and had more than $611,000 cash on hand, according to the report.
Santos raised $2.5 million over the period, spent about $2 million and had more than $603,000 cash on hand, according to FEC fillings.
Zimmerman says he hopes to hold on to the district for Democrats by espousing "mainstream" party values.
Like many Democrats running this year, Zimmerman has made abortion rights and gun control top campaign priorities.
He said he supports a ban on assault weapons, limits on the number of bullets in ammunition magazines and vows to work to crack down on unserialized "ghost guns," which are untraceable.
Zimmerman backs the proposed Electoral Count Reform Act, which would update the law governing Congress’ counting of electoral votes cast by the states.
Zimmerman also said he would work to secure more federal infrastructure money to protect Long Island Sound and improve drinking water quality on Long Island.
He opposes efforts to "defund the police" and said he would push to ensure more federal money for law enforcement and emergency first responders.
Zimmerman said he was prepared to go against other Democrats if they do not support repeal of the $10,000 cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes, known as SALT.
Zimmerman also supports a gas tax holiday.
Santos decries "one-party" Democratic control of both the federal and New York State governments, saying it has left residents feeling less safe in their neighborhoods and suffering from rising costs for housing, fuel and groceries.
He said Zimmerman would be a " rubber stamp" for the Biden administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
In line with the GOP messaging statewide, Santos opposes New York's 2019 bail reform law, which ended cash bail for most defendants charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
He supports more federal funding for police, increased domestic production of fossil fuels and repeal of the SALT cap.
On the abortion issue, Santos told Newsday he opposes a proposal by U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) for a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Asked about his position on reproductive rights, he said he believes abortion is a matter for individual states, "where people have more say" on the issue.
But Santos has responded only generally to questions about his stance on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
During a NewsdayTV debate this month, Zimmerman accused Santos of having been at Trump's "Save America" rally on the Ellipse in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, and supporting Trump's false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Santos responded that Zimmerman was misleading "around the things I did or did not do or the locations I have been or been not."
In an interview with Newsday, Santos called the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol "a dark day in America."
He did not provide details about where he was on Jan. 6.
As the Third District election nears, national political forecasting organizations such as the Cook Report and FiveThirtyEight list the district as Democratic-leaning.
Kondik, of Sabato's Crystal Ball, said the district "could flip" to Republicans.
However, Republican donors "are definitely putting more money into the upstate races," Kondik said.
Sheinkopf said Zimmerman has "smartly" picked up on the reproductive choice issue to attract suburban women voters.
But Sheinkopf noted a recent influx of new residents to the Great Neck area who hold more conservative views and question “the Democrats’ ability in the suburbs to deal with rising crime and economic conditions.”
Sheinkopf and other experts also noted that Republicans in Nassau were able to take key seats from Democrats.
Republican Bruce Blakeman beat incumbent Democrat Laura Curran by a small number of votes in the Nassau county executive race and Republican Ann Donnelly defeated former State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) in the Nassau district attorney's race.
Republicans also picked up the Nassau County comptroller's office and kept the county clerk's office.
"Curran and Kaminsky’s losses are still haunting" for Democrats, Sheinkopf said.
Hometown: Whitestone, Queens
Education/Career: Economist, investor and self-employed in financial capital markets under Devolder Family Office, his family's trust company. Formerly worked as regional director of Harbor City Capital. He is a graduate of Baruch College in Manhattan.
Hometown: Great Neck
Education/Career: Co-president and co-founder of the public relations firm ZE Creative Communications. Democratic National Commiteeman since 2000, and television commentator. Former aide to Rep. Lester Wolff and Rep. James Scheuer. He graduated from Brandeis University and earned an MBA from Fordham University.