The 2012 race in New York's First Congressional District is poised to be a repeat of 2010, with Republican Randy Altschuler challenging incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop, but there will be one big difference that could prove to be the deciding factor.
This year, the Independence Party has after backing Bishop in 2010, when Bishop, of Southampton, fended off Altschuler, of St. James, by just 593 votes.
Frank MacKay, the county and state chairman of the Independence Party, said Wednesday that Altschuler was chosen for his business background. Altschuler is the co-founder of CloudBlue, which provides recycling services for electronic equipment, and he was the CEO and co-founder of OfficeTiger, an outsourcing firm.
“People coming in from the business world into public office is a rare thing," MacKay said. "People don’t like to get involved in politics and government.”
He added, “It's not a slight at Tim Bishop, but he certainly doesn’t have the business credentials that Randy has.” Bishop was the provost of Southampton College prior to being elected to Congress in 2002.
MacKay said he has nothing against Bishop, who he called a friend. “This is a pro-Altschuler endorsement," he said. "It's certainly not anti-Bishop.”
Though the match-up is seemingly identical to two years ago, MacKay said that is not the case: “Randy did not have the Republican nomination last time around."
This time, Altschuler , whereas in 2010 he was in a three-way primary race with Chris Cox and George Demos and the party had not given its blessing to a certain candidate. While Cox has not returned to the fray in 2012, Demos has, and Altschuler must defeat him in a July 26 primary to formally clinch the nomination.
MacKay said when his party was picking a candidate in 2010, it was only he and party members from Southampton that backed Bishop, while all other towns in the congressional district backed Altschuler. “We certainly have a lot of respect for the people in Southampton, but it's not a large part of the congressional district,” he said.
He swayed the committee to endorse Bishop in 2010 because it was not guaranteed that Altschuler would get the GOP nod, he said. “The Republicans simply let it go to a free-for-all.”
When Altschuler and Bishop screened with the Independence Party for this election cycle, the party was confident Altschuler would have the Republican nomination, according to MacKay.
“He has the support of all the local tea parties as well," said Diana Weir, Altschuler's campaign manager. "We think there’s a very unified front."
Altschuler also has the Conservative Party line, and Weir said the Independence endorsement switch will be a major factor, especially considering there were 7,370 votes cast on the "I" line in 2010, a midterm election.
Weir said that while the endorsement bodes well for an Altschuler victory, Suffolk County voters are discriminating and split their ballots regularly. “It's not like they’re lock step,” she said. What will be very telling in the presidential race and down the ballot line will be pocketbook issues, she said, such as gas prices, the housing market and unemployment.
In an interview with Patch last Friday, Bishop acknowledged he would prefer to have the Independence endorsement. “It’s always better to have more lines than fewer lines, don’t get me wrong,” he said.
Bishop is counting on those who supported him in the past to find his name on the Democratic and Working Families lines. He said, “I’m pretty sure people vote for me, they don’t vote for what line I have.”
He pointed out that he knocked off an incumbent in 2002 without the Independence Party line, and he said in 2004, 2006 and 2008, his margin of victory dwarfed the number of votes he received on the "I" line.
Bishop said 2010 was a unique election cycle. “It was an extremely difficult cycle for incumbent Democrats in an off-year, a non-presidential year.”
"In 2008, there were 42,000 more registered Democrats who came out to vote in New York-1 than was the case in 2010," he said. "So if we get the Democrats back out to vote, there’s going to be plenty of Democrats there who are going to be voting for me."