NY1: Zeldin Defeats Demos, Will Take on Bishop This Fall

NY1: Zeldin Defeats Demos, Will Take on Bishop This Fall

NY1: Zeldin Defeats Demos, Will Take on Bishop This Fall
June 24, 2014

State Sen. Lee Zeldin claimed a victory in a divisive Long Island congressional primary Tuesday, beating fellow Republican George Demos handily to become the party’s pick to challenge Rep. Tim Bishop this fall.

Zeldin won 62 percent of the vote with 99.79 percent of precincts reporting, according to preliminary returns posted by the Suffolk County Board of Elections. However, just 9,641 voters cast their ballots for the state senator in what is typically a low-turnout race.

“This general election that is ahead of us, it presents us a great opportunity for us to change Washington by changing the people we send there to represent us,” Zeldin told a raucous crowd gathered at his campaign headquarters, located at a strip mall in Center Moriches. “There will be a new congressman in November, thanks to your effort.”

Demos, a attorney and a former Securities and Exchange Commission prosecutor who gave his campaign $2 million out of his own pocket, improved on his poor showing in the 2012 Republican primary contest, but it was not enough to win the nomination.

Early on Zeldin was seen as the clear frontrunner, bolstered by his military record and his two election victories in a state Senate district that overlaps with Bishop’s congressional district in Suffolk County.

But Demos appeared to emerge as a strong contender, thanks to his $2.3 million campaign war chest, compared with $734,592 raised by Zeldin. Several super PACs also waded into the race, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on both sides. Some $1.3 million in outside spending was directed against Zeldin, while another $400,000 went to oppose Demos, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The contest was also marred by mudslinging as each candidate tried to portray himself as the more conservative choice. Campaign advertisements made the questionable allegation that Zeldin supported Obamacare, while others accused Demos of funding his candidacy by marrying into a wealthy family close to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House minority leader.  

“Voters in the 1st Congressional District, the Republican voters who came out tonight rejected a certain style of campaigning that is not welcome,” Zeldin said, alluding to the negative campaigning while seeking to distance himself from it. Later, Zeldin said that Demos contacted him and pledged his support in defeating Bishop, the Democratic incumbent. 

Zeldin was endorsed by the local and state Republican Party, and he will also run on the Conservative Party line, which could be critical in a district where voters have a history of electing both Democrats and Republicans. 

The primary victory also leaves a state Senate seat up for grabs in Albany, where Zeldin is one of several young lawmakers in Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos’ conference to leave the Legislature over the past seven months in order to pursue other opportunities.

After being outspent in the primary, Zeldin has $149,609 remaining in his campaign account, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filing. Bishop, who has raised close to $1.5 million this cycle, has more than $800,000 on hand.

Yet Zeldin will undoubtedly have help. Bishop has become a top target of the National Republican Congressional Committee in recent years, largely because of an unresolved congressional ethics investigation into a donation one of his previous campaigns solicited from a hedge fund investor shortly after the congressman assisted him with a family matter. Republicans also have a significant advantage in active registered voters in the district.

Nonetheless, the congressman eked out a victory with 50.15 percent of the vote against Randy Altschuler in 2010. Altschuler ran against Bishop again in 2012, seeking to capitalize on the congressional ethics investigation. But Bishop expanded his lead in the rematch, garnering a solid 52.5 percent of the vote.

Bishop’s 2008 opponent was Zeldin, then a political novice, and the congressmen hammered him with 58 percent of the vote. While this fall will offer a rematch of sorts, party officials emphasized that Zeldin is now a more polished and experienced candidate.

“It’s a rematch, but it’s really not,” said John Jay LaValle, the chair of the Suffolk County Republican Party, which endorsed Zeldin. “You have two very different individuals. What’s happened since 2008? Tim Bishop got more liberal, Tim Bishop delivered Obamacare, tax hikes, our economy’s falling apart. What’s Lee Zeldin done? Lee Zeldin’s gotten elected, he delivered on his commitments.”


Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.