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Jun 14, 2016 4:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Turnout Will Be The Wildcard In June 28 Congressional Primary

Dave Calone and Anna Throne-Holst
Jun 14, 2016 5:00 PM

With voter turnout being the likely wild card in the Democratic congressional primary on June 28, both Donald Trump and U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin are targets of the campaigns of the two candidates vying for the chance to unseat Mr. Zeldin, as the primary campaigns look for ways to spur supporters to the polls.

Both the Anna Throne-Holst and David Calone campaigns, in the last week, highlighted controversial statements by the bombastic presidential candidate and the 1st Congressional District’s freshman congressman. Both campaign teams and political watchers say that Mr. Zeldin’s very public support of Mr. Trump could be easy bait for Democratic voters already energized by the closer-than-expected Democratic presidential primary and the extreme divide between the two presumptive candidates. And that could mean more June 28 primary votes to count.

“People are paying attention already, more than they might have been even in other presidential years,” former Democratic U.S. Representative Tim Bishop said this week. “That will have a bolstering effect, I think. And I think there’s a fair amount of buyer’s remorse about who is in that seat now.”

Mr. Bishop, a Southampton resident, lost to Mr. Zeldin two years ago; in his first reelection campaign, Mr. Zeldin has made it clear that he thinks strong support for Mr. Trump in the 1st District—where Mr. Trump won 74 percent of the votes in the GOP presidential primary in April—will help his chances.

Mr. Zeldin was critical of Mr. Trump’s statements about a federal judge who the candidate said might be biased against him in a lawsuit over the defunct Trump University. But in an interview with CNN discussing Mr. Trump’s statement, Mr. Zeldin himself made a statement that seemed to some to imply that President Barack Obama himself was racist, or has promoted racist policies. In an interview this week, Mr. Zeldin rejected the suggestion that he thought or was saying any such thing, saying that he was only pointing out that myriad public polices, including some supported by Mr. Obama, could be construed as racist by critics.

But both the Calone and Throne-Holst camps seized on the statement as another chance to highlight the deep divide between them and the incumbent.

“We’re seeing Lee Zeldin tie himself to Donald Trump over and over—and he’s on CNN defending him,” said Mr. Calone’s campaign manager, Rahul Kale. “That is going to help get people to the polls this November, and we hope it will help in the primary.”

Andrew Grunwald, Ms. Throne-Holst’s campaign manager, said he expects the turnout for the primary to set records. “People are energized about this election,” he said, nodding to what he sees as an advantage for his candidate and her broader name recognition in a large-turnout election. “We think the more people who turn out, the better off we are.”

Getting people to the polls for the primary vote, history would seem to indicate, will be an uphill battle for both campaigns.

This year’s contest is the first Democratic primary in the district since an unusual contest in 2000, when Regina Seltzer beat incumbent U.S. Representative Michael P. Forbes by just 35 votes to win the Democratic line. Mr. Forbes had been elected to the 1st District seat three times as a Republican, but switched parties shortly after winning his third term in office. He remained an avowed opponent of abortion, however, and state Democratic Party officials recruited Ms. Seltzer to mount a primary campaign to prevent him from being the party’s congressional candidate in the 2000 election, which was ultimately won by Republican Felix Grucci.

Just over 12,000 votes were cast in the Seltzer-Forbes primary—about 13 percent of the 90,000 eligible registered Democrats in the district at the time. There are now just over 137,000 registered Democrats in the district.

In 2012, the Republican primary between Randy Altschuler and George Demos drew just 8,560 voters to the polls. Two years later, Mr. Demos’s second attempt at the nomination fell short to Mr. Zeldin’s second run, in a vote with just over 16,700 ballots cast.

By contrast, in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election years, more than 277,000 1st District voters cast ballots in the congressional race in November.

The timing of this year’s race and the state’s somewhat convoluted election rules also are introducing unknowns that the two campaigns have wrestled to overcome.

For one, this month’s vote is the second of four Election Day dates this year for Democrats. The presidential primary was in April, the congressional primaries are in June, and state office primaries will be in September, ahead of the November general election.

“A lot of people were confused why our primary wasn’t in conjunction with the presidential primary in April,” Mr. Kale said. “So it’s the second of three primaries. And it’s right before July 4, and a week after school ends.”

The two campaigns also are pounding the pavement to win support and get their converts to the polls. Mr. Grunwald said that Ms. Throne-Holst has mobilized her large pool of supporters—she’s received campaign donations from more than 4,500 people, the campaign says—to field hundreds of door-to-door campaigners.

“We’re focusing on talking to as many people as possible,” he said. “The more people we can get in front of, to get her message out, to hear about her career and her life, the better off we’ll be.”

Along with what Mr. Bishop said was “an enormous amount of mailings” from both campaigns this year, Mr. Calone’s campaign is also relying on the personal approach. The candidate has attended dozens of meet-and-greets in the private homes of supporters in every corner of the district, an approach Mr. Kale said particularly targets likely voters: “If they show up to one of those events, they are interested, they care about what they’re going to vote for—those are people who are going to vote on the 28th.”

Both campaigns are also pouring money into the campaign as the finish line nears. With the final campaign finance disclosure before the election due to be filed on Thursday, both campaigns have estimated that they will have spent over $1 million by the time the ballots drop—much of it on mailings to voters touting the respective candidates, and on increasingly frequent television ads in the last three weeks of the campaign.

The spending levels are not outlandish. In 2014, George Demos spent more than $2 million on his failed primary campaign, and Randy Altschuler and Chris Cox both spent more than $1.5 million each—much of it their own money—in a three-way primary with Mr. Demos in 2010.

“It’s just part of the reality of 21st century politics,” Mr. Bishop said.

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Dave Calone is a bright, sincere, energetic, environmentally aware and life-long Democrat.

His mother was a public school teacher & father was an engineer on Long Island.

He graduated Princeton & Harvard Law School.

He & his wife are raising their 3 children in Brookhaven.

Boy, do we need intelligent, committed, honest people in governmental positions.

Vote on June 28th please.
By sag2harbor (117), sag harbor on Jun 15, 16 11:02 AM
1 member liked this comment
Job One for the Dems is to beat Lee Zeldin in November. Dave Calone is much the better candidate, because his strong background of success in government and business equips him to face anything that Zeldin throws. Also, his temperament -- deliberate, self-confident and knowledgeable -- means Lee Zeldin won't get under Calone's skin as he's very likely to do with Anna Throne-Holst.

Job Two is to be a good Representative for this district after winning the seat. Again, it's a matter of ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on Jun 15, 16 11:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
Will anna need a guard at her meetings??? No need for one at town hall now... Go figure???
By knitter (1906), Southampton on Jun 15, 16 11:20 AM
2 members liked this comment
There are 2 things that really motivate me to get to the polls. One is passion for a candidate that I like and feel that he or she truly represents the Democratic Values I relate to. The other is disdain for a candidate and the desire to see them finally get their comeuppance. In this election, I find I am doubly motivated to cast my ballot for Dave Calone on June 28th, and will be encouraging all of my friends and family to do the same.
By SqueakyWheel (28), Flanders, New York on Jun 15, 16 12:14 PM
1 member liked this comment
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." The master of spin, anna, once again has turned around the words of Dave Calone to fit her purpose. Does she think we're stupid? She DID contribute to the Conservative Party 3 times.

As the Daily Kos says: "However, Calone never accused Throne-Holst of backing Trump; rather, he pointed out that she gave money to the Conservatives, who in turn endorsed Trump. This is why, if you're a progressive, you don't donate to an organization like the Conservative ...more
By EastEndJoy (16), East Quogue on Jun 15, 16 6:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thoughtful, appropriate, responsible development is not a bad thing.. Blind support of every development proposal that comes her way has been the hallmark of the Throne-Holst Southampton administration, not a good thing.
David Calone is a true Democrat and a committed supporter of our fragile environment. And he can win in November.
By CleanWater (122), East Quogue on Jun 15, 16 11:28 PM
1 member liked this comment
NO, Tim Bishop, we don't have buyer's remorse because we got rid of a self serving crook -- you!
By fire11 (276), east hampton on Jun 16, 16 5:54 PM
Dave Calone has the Indepence Party's endorsement. If Dems don't nominate him in the primary, that line goes to Trump loyalist and climate change denier Lee Zeldin, who will then go into the general election with three ballot lines -- Republican, Independence and Conservative. That's a guaranteed win for Zeldin if ATH becomes the Dem candidate.

Here are the numbers: The Indies normally get about 3% of the vote, so an Indy switch from Dems to GOP is the equivalent of a 6% edge for the ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on Jun 21, 16 4:25 PM