State Sen. Lee Zeldin: On the Radar List

April 29, 2014 Updated: April 28, 2014

This past November the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) informed Lee Zeldin, a 34-year-old attorney and N.Y. state senator whose Suffolk County 3rd Senate District covers major portions of Islip and Brookhaven, that he would be placed on their congressional candidate “Radar List.’’

The NRCC, which is known to have its eyes set on expanding its current hold of 233 seats in the House of Representatives, reserves placement on this list for Republican congressional candidates in competitive races thought to have legitimate chances of winning in this coming fall’s election. Placement on this list is known to be followed with what the NRCC has written to be, “the tools they [the candidates] need to run successful winning campaigns against their Democrat opponents.”

NRCC’s selection of Zeldin came within weeks after he made his announcement to seek the Republican nomination to challenge six-term incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop in the 1st Congressional District. Running from Smithtown to Montauk, it is the most eastern district in the state, and has been in Democratic hands since Bishop was first elected in 2002.

Zeldin told me in a recent interview that he viewed placement on this list as “a tremendous shot in the arm to my campaign. … The support we will receive [from the NRCC] is crucial in our efforts of how to build a strong economy at home and how to be trusted by our friends and respected by our adversaries abroad.”

Primary Challenge

It is general knowledge in Republican circles that Zeldin was not placed on the “Radar List” by chance. A sitting state senator first elected over Democrat incumbent Brian Foley in 2010 and re-elected against Democratic challenger Francis Genco in 2012, both times with margins in the double digits, Zeldin is said to bring to the Republican Party an established political organization, a strong voter base, and a voting record as a state senator well known to be conservative—all of which, however, didn’t discourage George Demos, a relatively unknown former SEC enforcement attorney, from challenging him in the coming Republican Party June primary. 

However, both Democratic and Republican insiders across Suffolk County give Demos, whose funding has been reported by several other newspapers to come almost exclusively from California Democratic donors, no chance of winning the primary and believe virtually unanimously that it will be a Zeldin versus Bishop contest this coming November. 

Concerning Demos’s ties to Democratic donors Zeldin commented, “I find it a bit strange that a candidate being funded by Democratic donors in California suddenly emerges to run in a Republican Primary in a race that Republicans have a real chance to win.” And then, quickly referring to internal polls showing he maintains a huge lead over Demos, Zeldin added, “You never want to be overconfident in politics, but we feel confident we will win the primary and will be prepared and ready for the fall campaign.”

Looking to November

Zeldin had better be prepared and ready for his presumed race against Bishop. The 64-year-old incumbent congressman has proved over the past 10 years to be a very formidable politician. After defeating the then one-term Republican incumbent Felix Grucci in 2002, Bishop went on to win the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections by double-digit margins. Bishop’s opponent in that 2008 race was the then political neophyte Lee Zeldin himself. 

Those double-digit margins, however, evaporated in the 2010 election against Republican candidate Randy Altschuler. Bishop went on to win that race, the closest congressional contest in the nation that year, by a mere 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent, leaving many Republicans predicting at the time that Bishop would be defeated in 2012. That prediction didn’t come true, however, as Bishop—running with an increasingly unpopular-in-the-district President Obama on the top of the ticket—still managed to defeat Altshuler again, this time with a 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent margin, which left many Democrats and even some Republicans regarding Bishop as an unbeatable political Houdini.

Zeldin, however, scoffed at the suggestion that Bishop is unbeatable. Pointing to the 19,000 voter edge that Republicans now hold over Democrats in the 1st Congressional District, and noting that the Conservative Party, which has already endorsed him, has approximately 11,000 registered voters, Zeldin told me, “I believe those numbers indicate the 1st Congressional District is at its heart a moderate-to-conservative district. Mr. Bishop has done a good job in the past of deceiving the voters by portraying himself as a moderate Democrat. But I believe the voters are now seeing through this deception, so if, as I plan to do, run an effective grass-roots campaign, I believe I can win.”

Such an effective campaign, Zeldin explained, involves explaining to voters how, if elected, his future votes on key legislation would contrast with those Bishop has cast in the past—something, he admitted, he failed to do six years ago. 

“Six years can be a lifetime in politics,” stated Zeldin. “It will be my job to show voters how my voting record in the State Senate these past four years—a record I didn’t have in 2008—will indicate how I will vote in the House of Representatives, and how that differs from the voting record of Mr. Bishop.”

Issues and Stances

“As a state senator,” Zeldin continued, “I was a leader in passing legislation that enacted the most significant property tax cap in America, and I also successfully worked on legislation that helped reduce the income tax paid by middle-class New Yorkers to the lowest level in six decades. … By contrast Mr. Bishop as a congressman voted for almost every bill that was introduced by President Obama and the Democratic leadership. Much of that contained wasteful spending, which has increased the power and reach of the federal government and has resulted in an increase of over six trillion dollars to our national debt, adding up to a total debt of a staggering 17 trillion dollars—a debt, unless decisive actions are taken, that will be transferred to our children and grandchildren.”

Moving to an issue that he has not directly faced on a state level, Zeldin added, “The issue most on the mind of many voters I meet remains ‘Obamacare.’ Mr. Bishop was first a major supporter, then a defender, and now an apologist for a program that is displacing patients from their doctors and causing real harm to them and their entire families. … If elected, my first domestic priority will be to help repeal ‘Obamacare’ and replace it with real health care reform, that will improve upon, not destroy, what was once the best health care system in the world.”

Still, Zeldin reserved his harshest criticism of Bishop for issues other than what Zeldin believes to be misguided votes on the budget and health care. 

“It is the responsibility and moral duty of a congressman to speak out against the actions and policies of any president, even one of the same party,” Zeldin asserted. “And yet, Mr. Bishop has been silent about the administration’s use of the IRS to target conservative, Christian, and pro-Israeli organizations. … He has been deafeningly silent about the administration’s stonewalling of the Benghazi and the ‘Fast and Furious’ Investigations. … He has been silent as the Obama administration has consistently taken positions that threaten the very survival of our closest ally, Israel.”

Service to the Nation

Zeldin, who from 2003 to 2007 served as an active duty officer with the U.S. Army, including a deployment to Iraq as a member of an airborne unit in 2006, currently holds the rank of major in the Army Reserves.

“I joined the military,” he said, “because I understand that the freedom and liberties we enjoy can never be taken for granted. … 9/11 taught us we have enemies who seek to take that freedom and liberty from us and seek to murder Americans and destroy America. … I feel the greatest honor is to help protect our country and its people. That is why I served as a United States paratrooper in Iraq and that is why I serve as a major in the United States Army Reserves today.”

Zeldin, a Long Island native who together with his wife Diana is raising their 7-year-old twin daughters, Mikayla and Ariana, told me that his children are the most important reasons behind his decision to run for Congress.

“Just like all parents,” he said, “I love my children with all of my heart and soul. I want to be elected to Congress to help insure that my two daughters and all children throughout our beautiful land will continue to enjoy the freedom and opportunity that has made America the greatest nation in the history of the world.”

Maybe that is the real reason the NRCC placed him on their “Radar List.”

Robert Golomb is a nationally published columnist.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.