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May 27, 2008 10:00 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Zeldin earns official GOP nod in bid to unseat Bishop

May 27, 2008 10:00 AM

Running on his record, and with a sizable war chest, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop should have an “easy victory” in November against his 27-year-old GOP challenger, Lee Zeldin, Suffolk County Democratic Party officials said this week.

But Republican Party officials contend that despite Mr. Bishop’s financial domination, the GOP candidate will give the sitting congressman a run for his money.

As the election cycle heats up, Mr. Zeldin of Shirley, who officially secured his party’s nomination last Thursday night, May 22, conceded that a major hurdle for his campaign will be fund-raising.

In a recent financial disclosure statement to the Federal Election Commission, Mr, Zeldin showed $71,000 cash on hand and debts owed of about $70,800, giving Mr. Zeldin a balance of about $200 as of March 31. Mr. Zeldin also gave himself a $44,000 loan to pay for some expenses.

Mr. Bishop, after having spent more than $300,000 on expenses, including direct mailings and fees for a campaign strategy firm, ended the most recent filing period showing nearly $821,000 cash on hand with no debts. He ended the filing period by increasing his $750,000 cash on hand from the previous filing period, which ended December 31.

Asserting that spending since the end of March has not put the campaign in the red, Mr. Zeldin said that fund-raising has “gotten much easier” and that he has raised more than $100,000 for the campaign.

“We know we are going to be outspent, but we are just going to have to make what money we have work,” he said.

“We’re the underdog, and we’re running against the Goliath,” Mr. Zeldin continued. “But many, many more people than the other party would like to believe are supporting this underdog.”

One of Mr. Zeldin’s expenses in February included about $6,000 for a poll conducted by the Blauvelt, New York-based polling firm McLaughlin and Associates. Mr. Zeldin said the results of the poll did not favor Mr. Bishop.

“He is not as popular as he has made himself out to be in polls in the past,” Mr. Zeldin said. “Times are changing.”

Suffolk County Democratic Party Chairman Richard H. Schaffer responded by suggesting that Mr. Zeldin’s poll was slanted, and pointed out that in 2006 Mr. Bishop received 61.3 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Italo Zanzi.

“I think the fact that Lee Zeldin has not been able to raise any money doesn’t speak well to what kind of support he’s got,” Mr. Schaffer said. “He should demand a refund from his polling company. They’re giving him false information.”

Arguing for a clean race, Mr. Bishop said he has been “attacked since November,” when Mr. Zeldin first announced his intention to run for Congress. Mr. Bishop—who attracted attention when Newsday printed a story in late March about his daughter, Molly, earning $270,000 in salary since 2002, both as an employee and a part-time consultant, raising funds for her father’s campaign—said he hopes Mr. Zeldin will “stick to the issues” and not bring family into the mix.

“I’ve read letters to the editor that Lee Zeldin has written pledging a clean race,” Mr. Bishop said. “That’s the kind of race I want to run. Any race other than a race focused on the issues is an insult to the voters.”

Mr. Bishop said he will campaign on his record as a three-term member of Congress. “I’m perfectly content to put my six-year record out there,” Mr. Bishop said, avoiding any partisan jabs. Mr. Zeldin “needs to define himself for himself,” he added.

Mr. Zeldin said he would not bring personal issues into the campaign and said he would talk to voters about where Mr. Bishop stands on important issues, including the high cost of living on Long Island, national security, illegal immigration and the Iraq war.

“He has many, many votes that are the exact opposite of what would be in the best interest of the voters of the 1st Congressional District,” Mr. Zeldin said, adding that Mr. Bishop “votes with his party 80 percent of the time.”

As November’s election draws closer, Mr. Bishop said the most compelling issues for voters in the congressional district will be the economy and the Iraq war.

“Our focus needs to be on putting this country back to work and pulling ourself out of the recession that I believe is the result of the economic policies of this administration for the past seven years,” Mr. Bishop said.

On the Iraq war, he said he supported recommendations by the Iraq Study Group for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops. The group is part of the federal U.S. Institute for Peace, and released the recommendations as a part of a report evaluating U.S. involvement in Iraq in 2007. He said the report offers “a responsible path to what has been a tragic, tragic mistake.”

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