GOP hopes N.Y. rematch puts second Jewish Republican in the U.S. House

Randy Altschuler, right, a Republican candidate in the race for New York's first congressional district, campaigning with Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader and the only Republican Jewish lawmaker in Congress, during Altshuler's losing 2010 race against Rep. Tim Bishop. (Courtesy Randy Altschuler for Congress)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish Republicans nationwide are hoping that a heated congressional race rematch in the New York suburbs puts a second Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Following a narrow 593-vote defeat two years ago to Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Jewish businessman Randy Altschuler again is running against the incumbent in New York’s 1st Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Suffolk County.

Two years ago the New York Jewish Week reported that the district’s Jewish population was at 6 percent, but dropping. The margin could still have an impact on the general election, particularly since it was so close in 2010, according to David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

The primary is June 26.

“There’s not a huge Jewish community, but there certainly are Jews in the district and whenever there are Jews present in a close race like this, the Jewish vote can play an outsized role,” he said.

Observers also are watching closely since the district is known for a tendency to swing its presidential vote, favoring Barack Obama in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004. The recent round of redistricting has left the district relatively unchanged, with 35,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, according to the Long Island Press.

The campaign differs substantially from the most recent New York race that drew national Jewish focus. Last year, Republican Bob Turner bested Democrat David Weprin in the race to replace Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) in the heavily Jewish 9th District. Dissatisfaction among Jewish voters over President Obama’s support for Israel was a major issue in that campaign while jobs seem to be the focus in the rematch.

The 1st District race might not have that a strong Jewish flavor, but the potential for Altschuler to join House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as the second Republican in Congress is significant, according to Matthew Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“I think he [Altschuler] will be a common sense leader who is a proven, successful businessman and understands how the economy works,” he said. “He knows how to create jobs and obviously as a Jewish Republican he is a strong, passionate and articulate defender of Israel.”

For Altschuler to succeed, he will have to disprove the results of a recently released poll by the Bishop campaign. It showed its candidate with a 17-point lead over the likely challenger.

Altschuler is one of several Jewish Republicans drawing attention from RJC supporters. Others include Adam Hasner, competing for a House seat in the Florida delegation, and former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel, both vying for Senate spots.

Altschuler, who has family living in Haifa, Israel, said his support for the Jewish state has a “personal element to it.”

“I think for the United States of America a strong Israel is absolutely critical,” he told JTA. “When I talk about that, I talk about the benefits a strong Israel provides to America.”

For his part, Bishop told JTA, “Maintaining our relationship with Israel is crucial to stability in the Middle East.”

Like many areas, Suffolk County has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Yet, it has recently seen a decrease in unemployment. Since February, when the unemployment rate reached 8.3 percent, the level there has dropped to 7.5 percent.

“My focus is on strengthening the middle class and I think the people of this district — as well as the people of this country — are going to be presented with a real choice and they are two conflicting visions of how you achieve economic stability,” Bishop said, noting he will continue to concentrate on sustaining the middle class.

Altschuler has released a 10-point jobs plan that outlines ways to jumpstart Long Island’s economy. It calls for finding ways to reform and simplify the tax code, cutting taxes, easing regulations on small businesses, and providing tax credits to businesses hiring veterans.

“These are very practical steps that I can take as a congressman to help the job market grow,” Altschuler said.

During a press conference last month to announce his jobs plan, Altschuler criticized Bishop’s tenure as the “failed administrator” of Southampton College, which closed in 2005, three years after Bishop was elected to Congress.

Bishop spokesman Oliver Longwell told the Southampton Patch that the remark was “an absolutely baseless charge.”

In 2010, Altschuler was criticized for outsourcing jobs from his business support services company, Office Tiger, to India and Sri Lanka. Surrogates for Bishop are taking up the charge once again.

“Randy Altschuler made a fortune outsourcing American jobs to India and Sri Lanka, and now he’s running for Congress to lower his own taxes and the taxes of other millionaires and billionaires,” Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer said in a statement. “That doesn’t play well in Suffolk County.”

Altschuler countered that he “created over a thousand jobs in America and I’ve created jobs around the world because I have an international business.”

Altschuler also believes that campaign adjustments he’s made this time will make the difference.

In the 2010 race, he was ahead on election night by 3,400 votes, but would lose one month later after a recount. The lack of an absentee ballot program in his campaign made the difference, he said.

“That was the first time I ever ran for office and I learned a lot as a candidate,” Altschuler said. “The first thing I learned was to have an absentee ballot program.”

Altschuler was again to face his 2010 primary opponent, attorney George Demos. Two weeks ago Demos withdrew, saying he wanted to focus on his upcoming wedding, leaving Altschuler as the Republican favorite.

Altschuler’s supporters also hope that having presumed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the top of the party’s ticket will be the boost they need. Just under 52 percent of the district’s voters cast for Obama in 2008.

“Romney is actually very popular in Suffolk County and he will probably win Randy’s district,” said Laurence Zuriff, the Altschuler campaign’s finance chairman. “That should be a positive draw for Randy that he did not have in 2010.”

Jeffrey Segal, the chairman of the political science department at Stony Brook University, does not think it will be enough.

“I think that Bishop will win and more comfortably than he won last time,” Segal said. “He won last time in a historically bad year for Democrats. This year Democrats are going to pickup seats and they will recover many of the seats they lost two years.”