By Karl Grossman
It’s new for Suffolk County to be the setting for lavishly financed campaigns for Congress. Indeed, Otis G. Pike, with the longest tenure of a representative from Suffolk in Congress in modern times, made a point of having only the simplest campaign material.
He wanted to demonstrate he was thrifty and frugal figuring that would appeal to voters here. And despite Suffolk having a far more Republican electorate between 1960 and 1978, the Riverhead Democrat won over and over again. The New Yorker magazine even published a piece documenting Mr. Pike’s parsimonious political strategy.
But a year ago, Suffolk witnessed a new approach in a Congressional run here — one which is about to be repeated.
Enter Randy Altschuler and Christopher Nixon Cox.
Mr. Altschuler made a fortune setting up and running a business that outsources jobs notably to India. The multi-millionaire came here from New Jersey to take on the Democratic incumbent in the lst C.D. He was advised by GOP strategists that the incumbent where he lived in New Jersey, Rush Holt, was not vulnerable and Mr. Bishop was.
Meanwhile, also with his eye on the lst C.D. seat was Mr. Cox. The bid for Congress of the 31-year-old grandson of ex-President Richard Nixon was even more audacious than that of Mr. Atschuler. A business consultant from Manhattan, he had to switch his residence to his family’s compound in Westhampton Beach to be eligible to run. His biggest booster: Edward Finch Cox, his father, who just happened to have become the new New York State Republican chairman. He wanted his son to follow in the family’s political footsteps. His mother: Nixon’s oldest daughter, Tricia.
Mr. Altschuler and Mr. Cox began a primary battle costing each well over $1 million.
Disrupting the duel — interfering with the slick political TV commercials both deluged Suffolk with as well as their planting of a forest of campaign signs — was George Demos. A former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney from Manhattan and Shelter Island — he emphasized he registered to vote at 18 on Shelter Island and always voted there — Mr. Demos also sought the GOP nomination. He hit hard at Mr. Altschuler and Mr. Cox.
“One guy is trying to buy the race, one guy thinks he was born into it, and I’m trying to earn it,” declared Mr. Demos. He charged “Altschuler came here literally shopping for a Congressional seat. Jobs are the number one issue in this election. It defies logic to run a guy who made his money outsourcing jobs to India,” and “Cox only registered to vote in Suffolk last year listing his parent’s home in Westhampton Beach as his residence.”
Although his campaign cost a fraction of those of Messrs. Altschuler and Cox, it resonated with many GOPers. Mr. Demos bested Mr. Cox in the GOP primary. Mr. Altschuler won — but at a cost. Even the Suffolk GOP chairman, John Jay LaValle, who had backed Mr. Altschuler, got extremely concerned about his political vulnerability on the outsourcing issue and switched his support to Mr. Cox.
In the general election, Mr. Bishop, long-time provost of Southampton College and a Southampton Village resident, focused heavily on Mr. Altschuler’s involvement in outsourcing. Despite the political tsunami last year that resulted in many Democratic Congressional incumbents losing, he hung on — by the narrowest margin (539 votes) in any contest for the House of Representatives in 2010.
Now Mr. Altschuler, of St. James, is preparing to take on Mr. Bishop again.
“I am eager to contrast my record as a successful entrepreneur and small businessman who knows how to create jobs versus Congressman Bishop’s record as a tax, spend and borrow politician,” he said announcing his candidacy last month. This past weekend there was a high-powered campaign luncheon for Mr. Altschuler in Sagaponack.
But guess who is coming to dinner again? George Demos, now of Ronkonkoma, intends to return to the lst C.D. fray, best Mr. Atschuler and be the GOP candidate. .
Demos political advisor Rob Cole says: “Randy Altschuler couldn’t win in a year Republicans couldn’t lose, He’s simply unelectable.” We’ll see—and we’ll also see a flood of Altschuler TV commercials and near-endless campaign signs, with high-priced Congressional politicking having come to Suffolk.