It was last March when Randy Altschuler showed up at a local Republican club in Ronkonkoma to meet members and ended up helping stuff envelopes for a fundraiser.
No ordinary party volunteer, Altschuler, 39, was accompanied by campaign aide Christopher Maloney, a former aide in Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Altschuler, a co-founder of OfficeTiger, a company that later sold for $250 million, was making the rounds to explore a potential run against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) next year.
"He's doing everything the right way," said Joan Hudson, a 50-year party activist from nearby Lake Grove. "He's not stepping on anyone's toes, he's walking districts and helping out other candidates. The Republican Party needs a transfusion and a face-lift. And he fills the bill 100 percent."
But Democrats say Altschuler, who only registered to vote locally a year ago, is just the latest in a series of rich carpetbaggers who have moved into the Republican-dominated East End district looking to buy a congressional seat. They say Altschuler's past, which ties him to a company that exported 4,000 jobs to India, makes him unelectable.
"I'd be stunned if local Republicans would want to team up with someone who made millions outsourcing jobs to India," said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman. "They will have to explain why they are supporting someone who has worked to destroy the U.S. economy." Altschuler, he added, "has got as many ties to the local community as Bernie Madoff has to a legitimate stock deal."
But Maloney dismissed such attacks, criticizing local Democrats for employing "the politics of personal destruction." Maloney says Altschuler only became interested in running after moving to Suffolk in 2007. However, he concedes it was national Republicans who initially recruited Altschuler, and that he was not involved in local politics before he began exploring this race.
Maloney also noted Altschuler sold OfficeTiger in 2006, and now heads CloudBlue, a recycler of electronic equipment.
Altschuler in the past six months has quietly tried to build those ties, meeting repeatedly with party leaders and stumping four or five nights a week at GOP functions. And last week, he officially declared himself a candidate, though his announcement said little about issues.
The nearest the Princeton-educated, Harvard Business School graduate got was: "As a businessman, I believe we cannot tax and spend our way out of this recession," adding, "we have a moral obligation to our children not to saddle them with a mountain of debt."
But Bishop, an upset victor in 2002 who admits his left-of-center politics, is no pushover. He won his last race by 16 percentage points over Iraq war vet Lee Zeldin, who had raised $750,000. Bishop says his success is based on delivering funding for local projects, which has built strong ties with local officials in both parties. "I take it as a vote of confidence that no other elected official from the district has ever stepped up to run," Bishop said.
Bishop has also turned back other imported candidates, including blue blood William Manger - who launched a multimillion-dollar campaign while living in his family's Southampton summer manse - and Major League Baseball vice president Italo Zanzi, who didn't even own a car when he moved to Suffolk to run.
But supporter Bill Ellis, Smithtown GOP chairman, warned Altschuler is "a very impressive young man" who will "give Bishop a run for his money" because the public mood has shifted and the St. James resident has said he will raise $2 million to wage the campaign.
"I think the sentiment has moved completely against Democrats," said Ellis. "And Bishop has a record of voting 95 percent of the time with [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and voters know that."
Of the outsourcing, Ellis said Altschuler "will have to explain that" to voters, but indicated it's "part of the global economy."
Altschuler is not alone in the GOP race. Richard Blumenthal of Westhampton is also interested.
Bishop, meanwhile, says he is keeping a watchful eye, but in an indirect gibe, said "We're 15 months out and right now my focus is bringing in jobs and keeping jobs for the people I represent."