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Oct 28, 2014 2:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Despite Projections, Bishop Remains Vulnerable In Race Against Zeldin

Oct 28, 2014 2:04 PM

It’s a Monday night in late September, and Tim Bishop is sitting in the Hampton Bays High School auditorium, positioned behind a purple cloth-covered table and in front of an American flag running the length of the stage.

Attempting to explain his views on the Affordable Care Act, the six-term U.S. congressman, a Democrat, can barely finish uttering the words “work in progress” before being interrupted by a chorus of groans, jeers and raspberries from a crowd saturated with supporters of his opponent, Republican Lee Zeldin. After a brief pause, the incumbent picks up from where he left off, only to be cut off by the crowd once again.

“I’m sorry, did I interrupt someone?” a flustered Mr. Bishop asked sarcastically.

It is a scene that played out several more times that evening, as well as at debates in Riverhead and Westhampton Beach, with supporters of Mr. Zeldin—many arriving in a white, camouflage-painted bus plastered with signs reading “Vote for a Vet” and “Zeldin [for] Congress”—heckling the Democratic congressman.

In many ways, it is emblematic of the campaign as a whole, one rife with attacks against both candidates, and one in which the well-established Mr. Bishop must defend his record to fend off Mr. Zeldin’s grassroots following.

A Competitive Race

On Tuesday, Mr. Bishop, a resident of Southampton Village, will seek reelection for the sixth time to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District, which encompasses most of Suffolk County and all of eastern Long Island. To do so, he must defeat Mr. Zeldin, a Republican state senator from Shirley, who challenged Mr. Bishop and lost in 2008.

Political pundits and prognosticators have forecast a competitive race since the beginning of the year, but most expect Mr. Bishop to return to Washington, D.C., for a seventh term.

“Zeldin will probably do better than his first run in 2008,” said Jeffrey Segal, chairman of the Political Science Department at Stony Brook University. “But unless there’s a huge tidal wave for the Republicans—I think there will be a surge, but nothing monumental—I don’t think he’ll have enough support to beat Bishop.”

The Cook Political Report, a Washington, D.C., organization that analyzes and, often correctly, predicts the outcomes of House, Senate, state governors’ and presidential races, has the district leaning toward Mr. Bishop, as does Capitol Hill news source Roll Call. The lone independent poll regarding this race, which was sponsored by Siena College and Newsday, showed Mr. Bishop ahead by 10 points, although that was released in early September.

Experts point to Mr. Bishop’s 16-point victory against Mr. Zeldin in 2008, as well as his ability to stave off a hearty challenge in 2010, as evidence of his job security.

Two Key Factors

Predictions aside, history and recent election results in the 1st District show that Mr. Zeldin could very plausibly unseat Mr. Bishop, as the incumbent is vulnerable on two fronts this year, both having little to do with him personally.

First, as a Democrat, he must deal with the backlash of being in the same party as the sitting president, a daunting task during midterm elections, especially when that president has an average approval rating this month of 41 percent and hasn’t achieved an average approval rating of 45 percent or better in a full calendar year, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

As Mr. Segal points out, the second midterm under a sitting president is often more treacherous for the president’s party—George W. Bush’s Republicans lost five Senate seats and 34 House seats in 2006 after gaining in both houses in 2002, and Ronald Reagan’s GOP lost eight Senate seats and five House seats in his second midterm after also gaining 12 Senate and 34 House seats in his first midterm.

President Obama’s Democrats lost five Senate seats and 64 House seats in 2010 during a Tea Party wave that nearly unseated Mr. Bishop, who defeated businessman Randy Altschuler by fewer than 600 votes that year. Mr. Bishop himself saw success during the two midterm elections under President Bush, first in 2002 when he ousted Republican Felix Grucci, then in 2006 when he had his biggest electoral victory of his career, beating political newcomer Italo Zanzi by 25 percentage points, with 62 percent of the vote.

The second issue Mr. Bishop faces is a growing anti-incumbent sentiment across the country, one that blames Congress for gridlock on issues ranging from immigration reform to the national debt. However, this might prove to be less influential in this specific race, according to Stony Brook University political science professor Helmut Norpoth, whose research is focused, in part, on election trends.

“People say they don’t like Congress, but they can’t vote for Congress—they can vote for one candidate,” he said. “The way you feel about Washington as a whole doesn’t necessarily impact what you think of your congressman.”

Voter Turnout Matters

The real reason Mr. Zeldin might be poised for an upset lies in the numbers. In both the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections, total turnout in the district, according to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, was about 167,700, give or take a couple of dozen votes. Meanwhile, in the presidential elections of 2004, 2008 and 2012, there were roughly 278,000 votes cast in each election.

With the exception of the 2010 election, which saw a voter turnout of 196,039—roughly 10 percent more than Mr. Bishop’s midterm average, likely due to the highly successful Tea Party movement that year—the voting populous in the district has proven to be reliably consistent.

Without a major issue or presidential candidate on the ballot to galvanize voters, it’s relatively safe to say there will be around 167,700 voters this year in the 1st District, meaning the winner is will need about 84,000 votes to win. The average number of votes Mr. Bishop’s challengers have received during midterm elections is 80,858—Mr. Altschuler was the only candidate able to surpass 82,000 votes on a midterm election year, which he did in 2010 during the Tea Party tidal wave.

Since 2008, Mr. Zeldin has added four years of legislative experience in Albany to his record, which already included passing the New York State Bar Exam at 23, active duty deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army, as well as service in the U.S. Army Reserves, in which he currently is a major. Mr. Zeldin believes he has gained both credibility and name recognition that he didn’t have as a 28-year-old challenger in 2008.

“In 2008, we started the race with no name recognition, no volunteers and no donors,” Mr. Zeldin said. “It was a different climate. The issues people were talking about in 2008 were different. That was the year Senator Obama was getting elected to the presidency with a whole lot of momentum, and this year there are a lot of people who may have voted for him six years ago and are dissatisfied.”

More Money To Spend

Mr. Zeldin also has deeper pockets this time around, thanks to individual donors, party funds and the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission lawsuit that resulted in massive amounts of money being spent on behalf of candidates by groups known as Super PACs.

Although Mr. Bishop has still out-raised him by about a million dollars thus far, Mr. Zeldin had already come close to doubling his total receipts from 2008 as of October 15, according to the Federal Election Commission’s website, fec.gov. So far, Mr. Zeldin has raised $1.6 million this election cycle, compared to about $870,000 in 2008; he’s also seen his donations from political action committees, or PACs, balloon from $24,200 to $268,174, while his direct receipts from party groups increased from $250 to $34,157.

Perhaps more important, Mr. Zeldin has benefited from roughly $3.7 million in outside Super PAC spending this campaign cycle, most of which has gone toward attack ads targeting both Mr. Bishop and Mr. Zeldin’s primary challenger, George Demos. Almost $2.1 million has been spent by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican Party’s official Super PAC, on behalf of Mr. Zeldin.

Nearly all the advertisements against Mr. Bishop have accused the congressman of being corrupt, citing an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation that has been ongoing since 2012. In May of that year, Mr. Bishop helped secure permits for a private fireworks show on behalf of a Sagaponack couple, then asked the residents, Eric and Tracy Semler, to donate to his campaign, which they did to the tune of $5,000. While a report from the OCE released in 2013 stated that there was some reason to believe Mr. Bishop violated House rules, a final decision has not been reached.

Mr. Bishop said earlier this week that the tone of this year’s campaign has been quite similar to the one during his 2010 race against Mr. Altschuler.

“For this campaign, the attacks that have been leveled against me have been particularly personal and particularly brutal,” he said. “But if after 12 years in office all they can do is replay the same false accusations against me, I’d say that says a lot for my record.”

Is Probe A Non-Factor?

Mr. Bishop has benefited from $4.9 million in outside spending, including $1.55 million from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as $1.2 million from the liberal House Majority PAC. With ads attacking Mr. Zeldin for statements he made in 2008 about supporting a private option for future Social Security recipients, as well as criticizing Mr. Zeldin for receiving campaign contributions from “a company that illegally dumped 50,000 tons of toxic waste in Suffolk County parks,” Mr. Bishop’s backers have not been afraid to sling their fair share of mud.

Mr. Segal said he foresees the ads against Mr. Zeldin playing a greater role than those against Mr. Bishop, noting that Mr. Bishop faced the same criticisms in 2012 in his rematch with Mr. Altschuler and ultimately went on to win by five percentage points.

“The anti-Bishop ads have been on the corruption stuff, but this isn’t anything new—people knew this last time and elected him anyway,” Mr. Segal said. “That’s just normal, everyday politics. If he’d held up the service until the donation was given, that might be something else, but he helped him out then asked for money—that’s just politics in America.”

Likewise, David Wasserman, House editor at the Cook Political Report, said the corruption allegations were a non-factor in 2012 and that he expects the same to hold true in 2014.

“The race is competitive, certainly much more competitive than when they ran last time in 2008,” Mr. Wasserman said. “Part of that has to be President Obama’s approval ratings being where they are, part of it has to do with the ethics probe, yet Bishop still seems to be in position to win reelection.

“If you didn’t lose in 2010 then you shouldn’t be in trouble in 2014,” he continued.

Hard To Nail Down

With two conservative strongholds, Smithtown and Brookhaven towns, combining for the majority of the district’s population, New York’s 1st Congressional District is considered a Republican one, even registering an R+2 rating from the Cook Political Report, meaning it was two percentage points more Republican in the 2012 election than the national average.

However, the district has voted for Democrats in four of the past six presidential elections, and, since 1961, a Democrat has represented the district in Congress for all but 14 of those years.

Ultimately, the race will come to down to who can get his supporters to the polls, Mr. Segal said, pointing out that while the Republicans have historically had more success with that during midterms, the Democrats have proved to be more efficient as of late in keeping digital records of their supporters and using the internet to drum up support.

“The Democrats have all this very sophisticated technology for turnout, where they keep good records of everybody,” he said. “But the Republicans are catching on to these methods, so the Democrats will not have the high-tech advantage that they had in 2012.”

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I especially like how in a recent debate and talking about gun control the dishonorable Dim Tim Bishop said referencing the terrorist attacks by former Major Hasan that 'their were a lot of good guys with guns who did not stop a bad guy with a gun."

It completely underscores the total ignorance of Mr. Bishop; the men and women murdered and injured by the Jihadist Hasan were all un-armed, military personnel are not permitted to walk around a base with their sidearms or rifles. Hasan ...more
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Oct 30, 14 9:35 AM
You sound like one of the angry people that Zeldin busses to the debates.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Oct 30, 14 10:30 AM
Zeldin bussed supporters to all of his events.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Oct 30, 14 9:37 AM
Too bad Bishop can't fill a bus...
By A dose of reality (7), Southampton on Oct 30, 14 11:39 AM
Bishop has too much class for such a low level maneuver.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Oct 30, 14 12:07 PM
Thanks SH. That was my laugh of the day.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Nov 4, 14 8:36 PM
Where was Tim when they were sending his schoolmates to Nam? Cowering.
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Oct 30, 14 11:58 AM
And where were you, nazznazz? Maybe you were too young or too old for the Viet Nam War, or maybe you were there with me, or maybe you were cowering yourself, but no matter which category you're in, that's a really cheap shot you took against Tim Bishop.

I respect those who were there with me, and I also respect those who weren't, as long as they didn't break the law to stay away. We have a system in this country, and under that system, some went to Viet Nam, and some didn't. It's called ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Oct 30, 14 4:01 PM
" most expect Mr. Bishop to return to Washington, D.C., for a seventh term."

Why does the Press let its reporters spew nonsense? There have been exactly two polls. The Siena poll last month showed Bishop 10 points ahead, but it had the same margin when he faced Altshculer the first time and that race ended up in a virtual draw. Even Bishop disputed the poll. A Republican poll recently found the race even. That's been it.
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Oct 30, 14 12:01 PM
1st How about having an honest election where only AMERICAN CITIZENS VOTE.
2nd I'm tired paying the way for everyone that doesn't want to work or comes here illegally.

3rd How about the Southamton Press putting the Letters to the Editor on equal terms. Seems they all side with Bishop. Hmmmmm!!!!! I don't think the whole eastend is that dumb. If only they could listen to AM radio stations and get the view.
By LongIslander (43), HAMPTON BAYS on Oct 31, 14 3:23 PM
Are you aware of a single instance on Long Island where it is proven that someone voted who was not a citizen?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Nov 3, 14 11:45 AM
Are you aware of a single instance on Long Island where it is proven that someone voted who was not a citizen?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Nov 3, 14 11:45 AM
Say Captn America, what exactly is this "corruption and cronyism" you're attributing to Tim Bishop on every thread? Is it just some mindless pit bull slogan such as we're seeing both sides using about now? Or does it (in your mind, at least) have real substance? You should tell us.

I'm going to take a guess about the "corruption" thing and say it's about the phony scandal surrounding a fireworks permit for a constituent earlier this year.You know that every responsible agency, including ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Nov 3, 14 11:33 AM
Sorry TB, it may not fit your definition of corruption, but taking $5,000. to assist a citizen with anything, just stinks of pay to play. And you cannot justify it under any circumstances. Had it been "Average Joe" is it a safe assumption that the permit would have been denied? ( ass I don't have $5K to "donate".)
Mr. Bishop certainly is not free to spend his donors money as he sees fit. Campaign funds are severely regulated and you darn well know that as Treasurer. ( and if you don't, someone ...more
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Nov 3, 14 11:51 AM
Gotta disagree here with you blank. The $5k was donated after the permit was issued (with Bishop of course not being responsible for the issuance). Once Bishop was questioned about the donation and the potential for it to seem as though it was "pay to play" he donated the money (thus not benefiting from the donation). As TB said, he has been cleared by essentially everyone, save for the "open case" done for political reasons.

Sure there are tight regulations on how campaign funds can ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Nov 3, 14 11:56 AM
Wrong. The citizen asked for assistance. Within days a request for a donation was made by his daughter. I know, its just a friggin coincidence. Please. He then donates the $5K to a Veterans group, in an effort to distance himself from it. You don't smell anything there?
I didn't question his hiring of Molly, TB just needed to be called on his "Its campaign money, he can do with it as he pleases" comment.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Nov 3, 14 12:08 PM
A "request" was made - certainly not a requirement, nor can it be proved that it was done because Bishop had helped. Wouldn't it make more sense for Bishop to "request" the money prior to? The guy could have donated $0 (or $1) and he still would have had his fireworks show. Not exactly how "pay to play" works.

Show me a longtime elected official that hasn't ended up accepting money from people that were later deemed "questionable". It's like all the mud slinging going on now trying ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Nov 3, 14 3:39 PM
OK, so the "cronyism" charge is stone dead, no serious objection to Tim Bishop's campaign hiring, and no other alleged instance of cronyism has been raised. RIP.

Cap's allegation of "corruption" in the fireworks permit matter is likewise without any basis, and no one has been able to breathe life into it in the face of the clean bill of health that all investigators (save the House Tea Party hawks) have given Tim Bishop. End of story there, too.

As to the Charlie Rangel contribution, ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Nov 3, 14 1:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
"Despite projections?"
Where did that come from?
Excuse, me, but Zeldin is ahead in the latest poll. Who is making the projections, The Press's editor and publisher?
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Nov 3, 14 2:39 PM
Zeldin is ahead according to that nasty liberal paper, Newsday. By the way they endorsed Zeldin as well. Politics are interesting as I got a call from Zeldin to donate money.
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Nov 3, 14 3:39 PM
Do you have to blow up Piping Plvers?
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Nov 3, 14 10:42 PM