By Bryan Boyhan
Ending the last contested race this year for a seat in the U.S. Congress, Republican candidate Randy Altschuler conceded the election Wednesday morning, offering his congratulations to Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop in the First Congressional District.
“I entered this race because I was worried about the future of our nation,” Altschuler said in a release from his campaign. “The problems America faces are many and will not be easily solved. I plan to stay active in politics and continue to speak out on the issues that affect the residents of Suffolk County, our state and our nation.”
Four-term Congressman Bishop said Altschuler called him at about 8:45 a.m. “to give me a heads up that he was going to make the announcement.”
“We had a very gracious and cordial conversation,” said Bishop in an interview Wednesday. “I said even though we had gone head to head pretty hard during the campaign, I had great respect for him and wished him well.”
Depending upon which camp you spoke with, Bishop led Wednesday by either 263 or 270 votes. Both campaigns were in the middle of counting through more than 2,000 challenged ballots — after approximately 11,500 absentee and affidavit votes had been cast — and were expecting to be in front of State Supreme Court Judge Peter Mayer today to move further through the count. As of Tuesday, about 1,100 of the contested absentee ballots remained to be judged. There were more than 194,000 votes cast in the race.
“After consulting with my family and campaign staff, I am ending my campaign and offering congratulations to Congressman Tim Bishop on his victory,” Atschuler said in his statement.
“Although Newsday, The New York Times and the Bishop campaign have all called for a hand recount of all the ballots cast on Election Day, I will not support such an action as I feel its cost will place an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers of Suffolk County,” the candidate said.
The Altschuler campaign also dropped its legal challenges to the remaining uncounted absentee ballots, allowing the county’s board of elections to count the remaining ballots, said the release.
“While the Altschuler campaign has uncovered numerous instances of absentee ballots that may have been unlawfully cast, the campaign is confident that the proper authorities will take the appropriate action concerning them and that their number is too small to alter the outcome of the election,” the release said.
In a press conference Wednesday, Bishop called the allegations of broad voter fraud “a red herring,” and said his campaign was not pushing for a full recount.
“We would have a very high bar to reach,” to begin a recount, said Bishop adding he was satisfied with the bi-partisan and Suffolk County Board of Elections-ratified count.
Of the 1,100 challenged votes remaining to be counted, “about 800 were presumed Bishop votes and about 300 were presumed Altschuler votes,” said Bishop Wednesday morning. “I just think they figured the numbers didn’t add up.”
“Mathematically, it just did not seem possible to win,” Altschuler agreed in an interview Wednesday. “It was really unnecessary to prolong the effort.”
He said he intended to remain active, but said it was too early to consider another run for congress, and added he had not decided what role he may play politically.
On offering advice to Bishop, Altschuler stated: “One thing I had said when I was leading the race is that this is a divided district; so whoever wins must make an effort to represent all of our district.”
Acknowledging the closeness of the race, Bishop said the First District is a difficult place for a Democrat to get elected.
“There are 30,000 to 35,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district,” Bishop said, adding there are more registered Conservatives in the district than anywhere else in the state.
He also acknowledged that, nationwide, Democrats were fighting off a tremendous Republican wave, with more than 30 of his Democratic colleagues losing their seats in the House.
“I’m delighted, frankly, to have withstood what amounted to be a Category 5 hurricane,” Bishop said.
The congressman credited the work he and his staff have done as one of the reasons for his victory.
“I see it as a validation,” he said and added during the press conference Wednesday morning that “you elect a representative to solve problems, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Bishop acknowledged that, since the election changed so many seats in the House, “I now have a very different job. I’m going to try to use the relationships I’ve developed to influence my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. And I’m going to have to resist that which I think is detrimental to my constituents.”
The concession marks the end of a race that has fluctuated wildly over the past month. Unofficial Election Day results had given Bishop a 3,500 vote lead, only to have Altschuler claim a 383-vote advantage after the county’s new electronic voting machines were re-read. It wasn’t until after the absentee votes had been tabulated that Bishop regained a narrow lead that built until Wednesday morning’s concession.
On the narrow margin of victory, Bishop concluded “If ever anyone needed a civics lesson on the platitude that every vote counts, this is that civics lesson.”