"I don't think that's any secret or surprise that this is the toughest re-election race I've had," said the four-term congressman at Sunday's Riverhead Country Fair. "I think it's a reflection primarily of the times. There's an awful lot of anger out there, a lot of cynicism, skepticism and a lot of fear."
Saying it's his toughest race so far, however, may not say a whole lot. Since Bishop defeated one-term Rep. Felix Grucci in 2002, he won his closest race by seven percent of the vote back in 2004. Since then he defeated Italo Zanzi in 2006 with 62 percent and Lee Zeldin in 2008 with 58 percent of the vote.
But the times, as Bishop admitted, aren't playing to his advantage. And Altschuler, a St. James resident and Ivy League-educated multi-millionaire, is intent on taking advantage of Bishop's connection with an unpopular Congress and party. A Rasmussen Report released last Friday noted that over the past eight years of tracking party membership, September 2010 reported the lowest percentage of adults (34.6) who identify themselves as Democrats. Congressional approval rating, according to Real Clear Politics, has not topped 30 percent in over a year.
"Tim Bishop is not voting with his district, he's voting with his party," said Altschuler, who also made an appearance at the Country Fair. "Hence his 97 percent voting rate with Nancy Pelosi. He's supported a slew of legislation that is not in the best interest of the district."
Altschuler cites Bishop's votes in favor of universal healthcare, taxing businesses on emissions ("cap-and-trade"), and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as examples of legislation New York's First Congressional District could have done without. "There are better ways," he said, referring to the health care bill.
While many effects of the health care bill have yet to be seen – most of the bill's mandates don't take effect until at least 2014 – Bishop's longstanding presence in the area may play to his advantage. Others say a new voice – and face – are what the area needs.
"Randy is a fresh new face," Nancy Reyer, Chairwoman of the Riverhead Republican Party, said. "He has new ideas. Randy can sympathize with me as a single mother raising a son, since he was raised by a single mother.
The 39-year old Altschuler, who moved around New York City with his single mother as a child, moved to St. James three years ago with his wife and three-year old son so his wife could establish a practice there. A former Provost of Southampton College, Bishop, 60, was born and raised in Southampton Village and is a familiar face around the area.
"Tim has done so much for the people of Riverhead. He helped the flood victims on Horton's Avenue, for one thing," said Vinny Villella, chairman of the Riverhead Democratic Party, noting many times Bishop works on community projects alone and unaided by large staff. Bishop pointed to a recent rail spur extended to Calverton (valued around $4 million) and over $1 million to Riverhead public schools as examples of funneling federal funds back to Riverhead – measures, he adds, that would not have been possible without stimulus funding, which Altschuler would have voted against.
Altschuler earned 45 percent of the vote in a three-way primary against George Demos (30 percent) and Chris Cox (25 percent), earning his spot on the Nov. 2 ballot. Since the primary, Bishop has hit his opponent, whom he described as "formidable," with similar shots Demos and Cox did, namely that Altschuler, as co-founder of Office Tiger, outsourced American jobs and more recently moved to the area for political gain.
"I've created over 700 American jobs," Altschuler said. "That's 700 more than Tim Bishop has created. If we want to look at the job outsourcers it's Tim Bishop. His policies and the policies of Nancy Pelosi are causing us to have excessive taxes and too much government red tape and bureaucracy. That's what's forcing jobs out of this country, not entrepreneurs and business people."
As far as the relocation issues goes, "I wanted to bring my son up in a beautiful community. We're here because we choose to be here and we love to live on Long Island."
According to OpenSecrets.org, as of the end of August, had $1.53 million on hand in his war chest, while Altschuler, who poured just over $2 million of his own funds into the campaign, had approximately $1.3 million.
If elected, Altschuler said he will "partner with and support private businesses and the private sector so they can create more jobs."
Bishop, when asked what he can do for New York's First Congressional District that his opponent can't, asked, "I think the better question is, 'What have I already done?'"
The first congressional district includes the entire east end encompassing East Hampton, Southampton, Shelter Island, Southold and Riverhead towns as well as parts of Brookhaven.
According to Bishop's press office, the congressman will be appearing at the following local Meet the Candidates' forums (Altschuler's office did not confirm future dates):
- Martha Clara Vineyard on Oct. 19 at 7:00 p.m.
- Community Center, Ponquogue Avenue, Hampton Bays on Oct. 21 at 7:00 p.m.
Andrea Aurichio contributed to this article.