The Suffolk County Republican Committee tapped a familiar face last week to challenge U.S. Representative Tim Bishop of Southampton for the right to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District—though the nominee most likely will first have to stave off a challenge from a familiar foe from within the GOP.
The GOP’s decision last Thursday, February 13, to nominate current State Senator Lee Zeldin, an attorney from Shirley who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Mr. Bishop in 2008 before winning election to the State Senate in 2010, also snubs George Demos, another Republican who was seeking the party’s support. In all likelihood, Mr. Demos will challenge Mr. Zeldin in a primary election this June; a primary would ultimately decide who gets the Republican line in November.
“The 1st Congressional District needs one of its own, not someone who’s a part of the bigger establishment, like Tim Bishop or George Demos,” said Jesse Garcia, the chairman of the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee, when reached on Friday, a day after the GOP convention was held at the Ramada Inn in Holtsville.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Zeldin, who will not be seeking a third two-year term in Albany this fall, issued an email statement confirming that he has accepted the Republican nomination to once again challenge Mr. Bishop, a Democrat. In the 2008 race, Mr. Bishop finished with nearly 58.4 percent of ballots cast, or 162,083 votes, while Mr. Zeldin finished with 41.6 percent of the vote, or 115,545 ballots, according to the Suffolk County Board of Elections.
“We can’t change Washington unless we change the people we send there to represent us,” Mr. Zeldin said. “The unanimous nomination from the Suffolk County Republican Committee shows how united our local communities are going into November’s election.
“Long Islanders are looking for representatives with integrity and a proven record of fighting against Obamacare, cutting taxes, creating jobs and fighting for local needs,” he continued. “That’s what I bring to the table, and that’s what I will continue to fight for in D.C.”
The GOP endorsement comes four months before the Republican primary election scheduled for Tuesday, June 24, that will most likely pit Mr. Zeldin against Mr. Demos.
Two years ago, Mr. Demos also challenged the party’s choice of congressional candidate Randy Altschuler. About a month before the June 2012 primary election, Mr. Demos, a former prosecutor for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission who lives in Stony Brook, announced that he was pulling out of the race to focus on his upcoming wedding, though he remained on the primary ballot. As a result, Mr. Altschuler won the primary with 87 percent of ballots cast.
Kevin Tschirhart, Mr. Demos’s campaign manager, said Friday that the Suffolk County Republican Committee is not accurately representing the wants and needs of the constituents of the 1st Congressional District, which includes the five East End towns, Brookhaven Town, and parts of Smithtown and Islip towns. Mr. Tschirhart also noted that the county-level endorsement will not deter Mr. Demos from challenging Mr. Zeldin in June.
“The party bosses and establishment are out of touch with the rank-and-file of our Republican Party, because we Republicans would never nominate someone who supported Obamacare,” said Mr. Tschirhart as he read from a prepared statement. He was alluding to Mr. Zeldin’s vote in the State Senate related to the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in New York State last year.
Additionally, Mr. Tschirhart said Mr. Demos is not concerned about losing potential campaign donations because the Suffolk County GOP has selected a different candidate. “We’re focused on spreading George’s conservative message,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Bishop, who is seeking his seventh two-year term of office in November, described the GOP nomination as “meaningless,” noting that Mr. Zeldin must first battle Mr. Demos before either candidate can challenge him in November.
“He’s got a primary against George Demos,” Mr. Bishop said of Mr. Zeldin. “Basically, the Suffolk County Republican leadership can do whatever they want, but ultimately it’s up to Republican voters of the 1st Congressional District to decide who will challenge me.”
He added that he’s not sure why the committee endorsed Mr. Zeldin this early in the year, but offered a guess that the leadership might be trying to persuade Mr. Demos to drop out of the race. Mr. Bishop declined to comment on either potential candidate, saying he did not want to engage in politics so far ahead of the general election.
“For me, I’ve got a job to do and there’s going to be a time for politicking, but that time isn’t now,” Mr. Bishop said. “I’m going to focus on doing the job that I was elected to do.”
Southampton Town Republican Committee Chairman William Wright said Friday that he also supports Mr. Zeldin, noting that, in his opinion, he is now a better and more seasoned candidate than he was in 2008, the first time he took on Mr. Bishop.
“It’s gonna be a great race—I think it’s great for the people to have two good choices like this,” Mr. Wright said. “People have two clear choices for where they want [the district] to go, and Lee and Tim Bishop both can articulate their messages for what direction they want to go, which is good, because there will be no questions when all is said and done.”
He also had a few choice words for Mr. Demos: “My opinion is that George Demos should just go away,” Mr. Wright said.
Mr. Garcia, meanwhile, said the Suffolk County Republican Committee chose Mr. Zeldin because of his leadership experience, both as a member of the State Senate and his prior service in the U.S. Army. Mr. Zeldin served as a military intelligence officer, federal prosecutor and military magistrate until 2007, and currently serves as a major in the Army Reserves, according to biographical information on his State Senate website.
The committee also credited Mr. Zeldin with working to lower state taxes and fees during his time in office, Mr. Garcia said, while maintaining that Mr. Demos failed to “protect Main Street from Wall Street” during his tenure with the SEC. Mr. Garcia added that Mr. Demos is “part of the federal establishment that gave us Obamacare.”
But Mr. Garcia later added: “Last night was more of a testament and it’s always been a testament about the leader that Lee Zeldin is and has been.”
Also during last Thursday night’s nominating convention, the Suffolk County Republican Committee endorsed U.S. Representative Peter King, an incumbent who represents the 2nd Congressional District on Long Island. As it did in 2012, the committee held its nominating convention earlier than normal because the primary elections for the federal races are now held in June instead of September. The party intends to announce its state level endorsements in May.