Former state Assemb. Dean Murray Monday became the first person to say he's interested in running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Lee Zeldin, a Suffolk County district that has recently played a pivotal role in control of the state Senate.

Murray, a Republican from East Patchogue, represented parts of Suffolk County's South Shore in the Assembly from 2010-12 before losing to Assemb. Edward Hennessey (D-East Moriches) a year ago. He said he'd been gearing up for a rematch until Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced he was leaving the state Senate to challenge U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).

"My focus had been on a return to the Assembly, but this obviously changes things a bit," Murray said. He said he'll soon talk to Senate and Republican leaders about his interest.

"This type of opportunity doesn't come around often, and I think I could be a good fit," Murray said.

Suffolk County Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said there was "absolutely no front-runner" for the nomination at this point, and said it was "very premature" to discuss potential candidates.

In 2010, Zeldin upset incumbent Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point), a crucial victory in the GOP's return to power in the Senate. His latest move means the eastern end of Long Island will play major roles in the 2014 elections for control of the state Senate and Congress, insiders and analysts agreed.

"Both the Senate and congressional district are classic swing suburban seats that will be at the center of both parties' efforts to control the state Senate and Congress," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies. "They are likely to attract A-list candidates and A+ funding."

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Currently, there are 33 Democrats and 30 Republicans in the state Senate. But the chamber is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats, with Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) sharing power.

The 3rd Senate District runs along the South Shore from Mastic Beach to parts of East Islip and Central Islip. Insiders said the district is roughly 55 percent in the town of Brookhaven, 45 percent in Islip. As of April, there were about 60,000 enrolled Democrats, 55,000 enrolled Republicans and about 58,000 other voters.

Skelos and mainline Democrats each immediately declared their sides each had a great chance to win the seat next year.

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) said his party's chances "look great."

"Our view is that this has always been a Democratic district with a strong Republican incumbent," said Gianaris, head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. He would not discuss potential candidates.

"We fully expect to win the 3rd District Senate seat next November," Skelos countered in a statement. "Senate Republicans have proven that we can work in a bipartisan fashion to successfully control spending, provide meaningful tax relief and help the private sector create new job creation."

Despite Murray's stated interest in running, LaValle said: "I'm not entertaining any conversations (about the race) at this point," adding that he's focused on town-level elections next month.

"We definitely have a strong bullpen in the 3rd Senate District and I believe we'll hold that seat," LaValle said.