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Abortion controversy over GOP candidate for Bishop's seat

A former state Republican chairwoman in New Jersey has weighed in on the combative 1st Congressional District primary fray, claiming millionaire contender Randy Altschuler, who is backed by the Conservative Party, has backed abortion rights in the past.

Virginia Newmann Littell, who headed the New Jersey GOP in the 1990s, made the charge in a letter to Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, in which she said Altschuler had considered an earlier congressional race in her state where he indicated he would favor abortion rights against conservative GOP Rep. Scott Garrett.

Walsh said Sunday that he is "fully confident" in Altschuler's anti-abortion stance and Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan said Altschuler recalls speaking to Littell, but not about abortion. "Randy Alt-schuler is pro-life, that's a fact," said Ryan Sunday.

The letter surfaced as Altschuler, Christopher Cox - President Richard Nixon's grandson - and former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer George Demos all must file petitions and campaign finance reports this week in their three-way battle to challenge left-leaning, four-term Democrat Rep. Tim Bishop of Southampton in November.

Littell wrote that Altschuler spoke to her several years ago when he wanted to challenge Garrett in the state's 5th District, describing her congressman as "certainly the most conservative" in the metropolitan area.

"When I asked Randy how he would challenge Congressman Garrett, he mentioned his position on abortion (pro-choice) was in contrast with that held by Scott (pro-life)," she wrote in the letter.

Littell said she "suggested that he move elsewhere to run" for Congress. "Randy is a very nice man," she wrote. "But I can't see why the chairman of a party that calls itself 'conservative' would support him because, well, he isn't a conservative, is he?"

Walsh said he had not received Littell's letter and doesn't know the woman, but called her claims "ridiculous," noting that Altschuler got backing from all but one of the Suffolk minor party's 53-member executive committee, as well as from state Conservative chairman Michael Long. "It seems like Mr. Cox had to go to New Jersey to find a woman who supported him," Walsh said.

Ryan said: "It's obvious that Chris Cox is desperate; his staff has quit and his campaign is in disarray. He will lose this election."

Cox's campaign released the letter, which Cox said "came out of the blue." Neither he nor his father, state GOP chairman Edward Cox, had any contact with Littell beforehand, he said.

Littell's letter does not explicitly endorse Cox. "It lays out a story that's important for people to hear," Cox said.

Littell's letter surfaced days after Walsh called on Cox to withdraw from the race because it would result in a "divisive primary or a split ticket in November," which could hurt chances to unseat Bishop.

Demos said Littell's letter confirms Altschuler searched several states "shopping for a congressional seat," while Cox moved into the district in January.

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