Riding an anti-incumbent, anti-Obama wave of sentiment, Republican State Senator Lee Zeldin cruised to a 10-percentage point victory over incumbent U.S. Representative Tim Bishop in the race for New York’s 1st Congressional District on Tuesday.
Despite projections early in the campaign of a decisive victory for the incumbent, a Southampton resident, Mr. Zeldin, in his second attempt to unseat Mr. Bishop, was able to get roughly 89,500 voters to turn out to the polls. He ran a grassroots campaign that included knocking on doors and busing supporters to his debates, one helped by millions of dollars spent by so-called Super PACs to brand the incumbent as a corrupt back-room dealer.
While some elections are dominated by a single issue, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, 2014 was defined by its lack of definition and summed up as a general frustration with a stagnant Congress and a president with a plummeting approval rating.
“This year it was interesting, because individuals had so many different top issues,” Mr. Zeldin said. “You go to one door and all they care about is school funding, then you go to the next house and their number-one priority is securing our borders, then the next house it’s health care. There were all sorts of different reasons for why people supported us this year.”
Despite being out-raised and out-spent, and benefiting from fewer independent expenditure dollars than Mr. Bishop, Mr. Zeldin, a Shirley resident, was able to rally voters in a year when most elected to stay home. If the preliminary Suffolk County Board of Elections totals stand, the 2014 midterm will go down as the lowest voter turnout in the 1st Congressional District during Mr. Bishop’s six-term career in the House of Representatives, with a little more than 167,000 total votes cast, compared to voter turnouts of 167,600 or greater in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and an average voter turnout of 278,105 in presidential years.
It’s unclear how effective commercials played on local TV and radio stations ad nauseam criticizing Mr. Bishop for an ethics investigation into whether he inappropriately solicited money from a constituent in 2012 turned out to be, but national sentiment certainly worked against him. Mr. Bishop’s last challenger, Randy Altschuler, used the investigation to attack Mr. Bishop in 2012 but ultimately lost by 5 percentage points.
Southampton Town Republican Party Chair Bill Wright said voters felt it was simply time for a change in the district. “Twelve years is a good run, and people are ready for a change,” he said Tuesday night at the Republican’s watch party in Patchogue.
Mr. Bishop said he’s not sure what he will do now that he won’t be returning to Washington, D.C., in January, but he said his future likely won’t be in politics.
“I’m 64 years old and not ready to retire,” he said Tuesday night at the Islandia Marriott, where Democrats gathered. “I have a lot of energy. I think have something to offer. I doubt very much it will be in a political setting. But I’m an educator and a problem solver. I have a family that loves me, a ton of friends and … we’ll see.”
Mr. Bishop called Mr. Zeldin as the election results came in Tuesday night and the outcome became clear. He congratulated the congressman-elect and offered to do everything he can to make the transition as smooth as possible for Mr. Zeldin.
A former provost of Southampton College, much of Mr. Bishop’s previous success was derived from being viewed as a political outsider. Ironically, the reversal of that view may have been what did him in.
Although not widely viewed as a toss-up until the waning weeks of the campaign, most political analysts classified the district as only slightly in Mr. Bishop’s favor. Aware of this, donors and Super PACs poured millions into the campaign. Mr. Bishop raised more than $2.7 million and spent more than $2 million, while Mr. Zeldin raised more than $1.6 million and spent more than $1.3 million.
Between the two campaigns, outside groups spent about $9.5 million on advertisements, direct mail and various other expenses—about $5.5 million benefiting Mr. Bishop, and a little less than $4 million helping Mr. Zeldin. New York’s 1st Congressional District saw the most outside spending in the state and the sixth most nationwide.
Along with joining between seven and nine new Republican congressmen in the House of Representatives, Mr. Zeldin will be part of a GOP delegation with control of both legislative houses, as Republicans appear to have won at least seven seats in the Senate on Tuesday to capture the majority. Mr. Zeldin also will be the sole Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, since former Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this year.
When asked what his priorities will be for East End residents, Mr. Zeldin said he plans to maintain the same list of priorities he ran his campaign on. “A lot of the issues that we were talking about during the campaign remain the top issues after the campaign,” he said Wednesday morning. “You have challenges with people who are working but not making enough to make ends meet, counteracting coastal erosion, and getting more funds for Superstorm Sandy relief, to name a few.”
The East End’s two longtime representatives in Albany, Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., were reelected on Tuesday in their respective races against challengers who declined to run active campaigns.
Mr. LaValle, who ran on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines, defeated Democrat Michael Conroy with 70 percent of the vote. Mr. Thiele, who ran on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence party lines beat Republican Heather Collins and Conservative Brian DeSesa with more than 60 percent of the vote.