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Outside Political Groups Bet On Flipping NY-2 Over NY-1

NY-2 candidates Jackie Gordon and Andrew Garbarino
Courtesy of Jackie Gordon campaign and N.Y. State Assembly
NY-2 candidates Jackie Gordon and Andrew Garbarino

For years, Long Island has had one big Congressional race: the First Congressional District on the East End.

But this year, NY-1 isn’t where the political class have their attention. The Second Congressional District is where the action is.

As of right now, outside groups are spending almost twice as much in that race as they are in NY-1.

Outside political groups, which all but ignored NY-2 in 2016, are spending heavily there for 2020.
Credit Charles Lane / WSHU Public Radio
WSHU Public Radio
Outside political groups, which all but ignored NY-2 in 2016, are spending heavily there for 2020.

The main reason, political operatives say, is it’s more flippable.

“I just think they see [NY-2] though as a better opportunity to change that seat to blue,” said Tony Speelman, Chairman of the Brookhaven town Democrats.

The Races

The First Congressional District is still a good, edge-of-your-seat race to watch this year.

Lee Zeldin is taking on a new challenger: Democrat Nancy Goroff. Polls are tight. Lots of money is coming in. It’s a good bellweather district. President Trump’s numbers on eastern Long Island have soured considerably.

If Zeldin wins or loses, it says something about the country.

The NY-2 race is Republican Andrew Garbarino versus Democrat Jackie Gordon. But more notably, NY-2 doesn’t have an incumbent. After 27 years in office, Republican Peter King is retiring.

“Look, Pete was a known, I’ll be honest with you,” Speelman said. “We backed Pete a number of years, we did.”

Credit Charles Lane / WSHU Public Radio
WSHU Public Radio

There are other factors, too, that make the Second Congressional District more of a toss up. The district is on the South Shore running from Oyster Bay through Brookhaven. It includes a number of working-class neighborhoods that tend to vote Democrat. Second, the candidate, Jackie Gordon, is a former Babylon Town Board member, so she’s well known. And she’s a former military police officer which neuters two key Republican attacks.

The Spending

There haven’t been any public polls in the NY-2 race. But, outside political action committees appear to be betting that Republicans stand a stronger chance of losing against Gordon in NY-2, as opposed to Goroff in NY-1.

For example, a key Republican group has so far spent $1.5 million on Garbarino and “only” $975,000 on Zeldin. Similar with Democrats. Except more so. For example, Emily’s List spent $900,000 in the First Congressional District in 2016, but only $87,000 this year. Meanwhile, Emily’s List is pumping in four times that to get Jackie Gordon elected.

Credit Charles Lane / WSHU Public Radio
WSHU Public Radio

Republicans say the reason for the mismatched spending is that Zeldin is safe. He doesn’t need the help.

That’s probably not true.

Last year, the National Republican Congressional Committee put Zeldin on it’s Patriot Program list, a list designed to get money to vulnerable candidates.

“He has developed a network where he can secure resources for his re-election campaign and those resources can come in a number of different ways,” said Jessie Garcia, Chairman of the Suffolk County Republicans.

It will be another few days before there’s a good window into how much cash the candidates have been able to raise from actual voters. Goroff’s campaign say they’ve had success here, raising $2.75 million since June.

But the interesting thing about political money: It’s almost like a bottomless pit.

Former Long Island Congressman Steve Israel ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for several years. He describes funding candidates as like the fourth quarter of a really complex basketball game.

“But the points in a campaign are how much time you’re buying on television and radio, how much you're investing in digital, and how much you’re paying for get out the votes. Both committees take a look at what the other committees are spending and they work very hard to maintain parity of points.”

In other words, each side will only spend to counter punch the other side.

What does Long Island get out of having two close elections this year instead of just one like normal? Would party leaders in Washington care more about the needs and concerns of Long Islanders?

Israel says no. Just more political ads.

And, according to campaign finance data from outside groups, most of the ads are negative.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.