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Hotly contested — and very expensive — congressional race draws to a close

Challenger Lee Zeldin will face off against incumbent congressman Tim Bishop on Oct. 8 at Riverhead Polish Hall in a debate sponsored by RiverheadLOCAL.

Voters go to the polls tomorrow to decide the hotly contested First Congressional District race between six-term incumbent Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and challenger Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) a two-term state senator who is taking his second crack at the congressional seat. He challenged Bishop in 2008, in his first run for political office.

After losing to Bishop by a wide margin (58 to 42 percent) Zeldin in 2010 ran against then-state senator Brian Foley, whose election two years earlier helped put Democrats in the majority in the state senate. Zeldin’s campaign blasting Foley and the Democrats for imposing the much despised MTA payroll tax resonated with voters and he knocked out the incumbent with a 57 percent share of the vote in the Third Senatorial District.

Zeldin points to the partial repeal of the MTA payroll tax, the 2-percent property tax cap and the repeal of the saltwater fishing license fee as legislative accomplishments during his nearly four years in Albany. He also secured funding for a statewide program to help returning veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

His congressional campaign has focused on cutting wasteful spending, shrinking the federal government and simplifying the federal tax code. Zeldin calls for repealing Obamacare and reforming federal entitlement programs, including Medicare and Social Security; but he says the “tough decisions” Congress needs to make “must not deny current beneficiaries the support they have relied upon for their golden years.”

Zeldin, 34, grew up in Shirley and graduated from William Floyd High School. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from SUNY Albany and a law degree from Albany Law School. He spent four years on active duty in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 82nd Airborne Division in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is currently a major in the U.S. Army Reserves. He lives in Shirley with his wife Diana and their twin daughters.

Bishop, who in his first run for political office in 2002 unseated incumbent Republican congressman Felix Grucci, fended off two challenges by self-made millionaire Randy Altschuler in two very heated races in 2010 and 2012. Bishop barely survived the 2010 election, defeating Altschuler by a margin of 193 out of 196,093 votes cast — 50.15 to 49.85 percent. The outcome of that election wasn’t settled until recounts were completed weeks after the polls closed on Election Day. The incumbent fared better in 2012, winning 52.49 percent of the ballots.

Bishop points to his record of preserving 1,000 jobs at Brookhaven National Laboratory and convincing the Federal Aviation Administration to keep its facilities on Long Island, saving 950 jobs. He takes credit for securing more than $1 billion in federal investment on Long Island and for writing legislation that increased college student financial aid. Bishop says he is proud of his constituent service, particularly to veterans and of his ability to work with both political parties to negotiate compromises in Congress.

Bishop, 69, was born and raised in Southampton and before his election to the House was provost at Southampton College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Holy Cross College and a master’s degree in public administration from L.I. University. He lives in Southampton with his wife Kathryn. They have two daughters and one grandchild.

Pundits consider the First Congressional District a battleground district and a toss-up race. A Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll released Saturday shows Zeldin leading Bishop 50 to 45 percent of likely voters. Five percent said they were undecided. The poll has a 3.8 percent margin of error, according to the Siena College Research Institute.

The race is one of the most expensive House races being waged in the nation in this election cycle, with the total spent in the race approaching $15 million as of the end of last month, according to data released by the Federal Elections Commission Nov. 1.

By Oct. 15, the Bishop campaign had raised over $2.67 million and the Zeldin campaign more than $1.64 million, according to the latest FEC filings available online.

In addition, the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee had spent more than $2.12 million on the race as of Oct. 28 and American Action Network, a nonprofit organization formed in 2010 to promote “center-right” policies, has spent just under $1.38 million opposing Bishop’s candidacy.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent over $1.76 million in opposition to Zeldin’s candidacy as of month’s end.

RiverheadLOCAL.com and SoutholdLOCAL.com sponsored a debate between the two candidates on Oct. 8, 2014. Watch the full video of the debate below.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.