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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Consequential Races

The presidential campaign swept through Hofstra University on Tuesday, Oct. 16, with President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney meeting for the second of their three debates on the institution’s Hempstead campus.

Since New York State has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1984, and you have to go back to 1988 to find a GOP presidential candidate who carried Nassau, neither the president nor Governor Romney are likely to be in New York again before Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The balance of power in Washington, D.C. and Albany, however, could be influenced by the outcome of two Long Island races. Both of the campaigns are being waged in Suffolk County.

The Republicans hold a 20-plus seat edge in the U.S. House of Representatives, the party’s only current lever of power in the nation’s capital, with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats holding a 51-47 majority in the U.S. Senate. It is really 53-47 because that chamber’s two independents, Senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, caucus with the Democrats.

This explains the GOP’s interest in unseating Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who was re-elected narrowly in a 2010 contest against Randy Altschuler of St. James. Altschuler, the executive chairman of CloudBlue, a company he co-founded, is again trying to oust Rep. Bishop in New York’s 1st Congressional District, which covers much of eastern Long Island. When I was in Tampa for the Republican National Convention, I attended a breakfast event where a group of three D.C.-based journalists were asked during a question and answer session about the likelihood Rep. Bishop would be re-elected. All of them thought the incumbent would be returning to Washington in 2013 largely because 2010 was such a Republican year and, if Rep. Bishop could survive two years ago, he can prevail today, the panelists agreed.

In Altschuler’s defense, it was no doubt difficult to run on a 2010 ticket headed by GOP gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino. My guess is that Governor Romney will have a lot more supporters on Long Island this year than Paladino did two years ago, and Altschuler may benefit from having a stronger candidate sitting atop the Republican ballot line on the first Tuesday in November.

Turning to Albany, the GOP currently holds a 33-29 majority in the state Senate and, as in Washington, D.C., the Democrats control state government’s executive branch as well as the other legislative chamber, the state Assembly. The 2012 election cycle also includes a contest for a newly-created 63rd state Senatorial District (SD), and that Albany-area seat is expected to fall into the Republican column. The other thing the 63rd state SD does is avert a scenario whereby the state Senate is deadlocked, 31-31, with tie-breaking votes left to the lieutenant governor.

Still, the retirement this year of state Senator Owen Johnson, a Republican, has given Suffolk’s Democrats a chance to pick up a Long Island state Senate seat that has been held by the GOP since the 1970s. State Assemblyman Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) is the Republican candidate to succeed Senator Johnson, and his opponent is Suffolk County Legislator Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood).

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: