Tim Bishop, seeking a seventh term in Congress, is fond of saying that the debate in the House of Representatives isn't between Democrats and Republicans, "It's between conservative Republicans and really, really conservative Republicans."

But by defining his own Democratic Party as irrelevant in the overwhelmingly Republican House, Bishop unwittingly makes a strong argument that the voters should select his opponent, Republican state Sen. Lee Zeldin. Voters in the 1st Congressional District, and across Long Island, do need a strong voice fighting for them on the side in power.

Zeldin first emerged on the political scene when he challenged Bishop in 2008 and lost. The national GOP targeted the seat in that race, and has continued to do so ever since.

Zeldin, 34, of Shirley, is a lawyer and officer in the Army Reserve who served several years of active duty. In 2010 he won a race for State Senate, and voters returned him in 2012.

But judging Zeldin can be difficult. Ideologically, he is unabashedly conservative. In previous runs and in this one, he has gotten support from the far-right wing of the Republican Party. Most East End voters don't necessarily share the opinions of such extremist characters and Zeldin himself predicts that if he falls under their spell, those voters will punish him.

But when you engage him more deeply or observe his legislative style, you find Zeldin's ideology softens considerably.

In Albany, Zeldin has become known for his fight to fund a pilot program for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, for leading a successful bid to scale back the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax and for his efforts to end saltwater fishing fees.

Bishop, 64, of Southampton, has been in Washington for 12 years. He knows the job and seems to relish it. He has worked to lower interest rates on college student loans, and he has fought doggedly for the Fire Island-to-Montauk sand replenishment project. But he does not have a significant voice in Congress, and that's not just because he's a Democrat. His strengths as an intellectual and mediator have led him to a quieter role.

We know what we're getting with Bishop, but we might be able to get more for Long Island with Zeldin, a newcomer with a lot of potential who likely will have collected some chits from the leadership if he wins -- and if it wants him to return in two years.

In 2006, Zeldin signed the Grover Norquist pledge, agreeing he would never, ever raise taxes. It's a foolish promise. This year, asked if he stood by it, Zeldin said he still doesn't want to raise taxes, but can't pledge he won't, because he might have to vote for a bill that's 10 percent bad to get the 90 percent good it contains. He's maturing.

Bishop has been an able congressman, but Long Island needs this seat at the Republican table.

Newsday endorses Zeldin.

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