You’ll have to forgive voters in four New York congressional districts if they appear to be suffering from deja vu this November.
In two upstate New York districts, and two on Long Island, the same candidates who battled for House seats two years ago will square off for voter affections again in the fall. Three of those races were decided by razor-thin margins, which may explain why the same contestants are back for another try.
In the first congressional district on eastern Long Island, Republican businessman Randy Altschuler is taking a second crack at unseating five-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Timothy Bishop after losing in 2010 by 593 votes.
In the Syracuse area, Democrat Dan Maffei hopes to win back the House seat he lost to Republican Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle in a 2010 race decided by a 648-vote margin.
In northern New York’s new 21st district, Republican businessman Matt Doheny is trying yet again to unseat Democratic Rep. Bill Owens. In 2010, Owens edged Doheny by 1,995 votes in a three-way race that included Conservative Douglas Hoffman — who quit the race but remained on the ballot and attracted more than 10,000 votes, many of which presumably could have gone to Doheny.
And Democrat Carolyn McCarthy, who was elected in 1996 on a gun-control platform after her husband was killed and son wounded in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road massacre, is again facing Republican Nassau County Legislator Francis Becker. Although he lost in 2010 by nearly 13,000 votes, he is pinning his hopes on a redrawn district map that now includes more Republican neighborhoods.
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said while congressional rematches are not uncommon, it is “a little unusual” to have so many in one state.
“When you come so close, you kind of think about the campaign you ran and think had you done this or that differently and say, ‘Let’s give it another shot,’” Greenberg said.
He also noted that because of reapportionment this year, in which congressional districts have been redrawn, some candidates may feel they have a better shot. “And there is still an anti-Congress sentiment out there. The approval ratings of Congress are at record lows, which cannot be a good thing for any incumbent,” Greenberg said.
He and others point out, however, that because 2012 is a presidential election year, conditions may not mimic 2010 as closely as some may think.
“Historically, in presidential election years, Democratic candidates outperform their congressional opponents; in gubernatorial years, the Republicans outperform,” Greenberg said.
Lawrence Levy, a political commentator and dean of Hofstra University’s National Center on Suburban Studies, said: “How Obama does (in New York) is going to be the decisive factor in whether the GOP congressional challengers will be close enough for their money and added experience to make a difference.”
Maffei, a House freshman in 2010, was blasted by Buerkle for supporting the president’s health care reform measures. It remains to be seen what impact last week’s Supreme Court decision, upholding the Obama plan will have on the race.
Both the national Democratic and Republican organizations have said the race on Long Island could be one of the key House contests nationally. John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County GOP chairman, has said Altschuler, who had never run for office before 2010, has worked to become better known in the district.
Altschuler also will have the Independence Party line on the ballot this time around. In 2010, Bishop picked up 7,300 votes on the Independence line. Frank MacKay, party chairman, told reporters: “This is a pro-Altschuler move, not anti-Bishop.”
“Make no mistake, Randy winning the Independence Party endorsement this year, combined with the fact that people are sick and tired of longtime incumbent Washington politicians like Tim Bishop, means we are in a very strong position heading into the general election,” said Altschuler spokesman Chris Russell.
Bishop spokesman Bobby Pierce downplayed the importance of the endorsement shift, arguing “voters in Suffolk County don’t vote for a party, they vote for a person. This is especially true for third party lines in high-profile races between well-known candidates.”
Becker, whose grandfather once served in Congress, notes the new 4th district in Nassau County now includes an area that strongly supported Rep. Peter King, currently the only Republican in the House from Long Island. King’s district has shifted slightly east and now includes parts of Suffolk County.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.