A liberal congressman defies his district and faces defeat in a bellwether re-election campaign.
In 2010, a torrent of anger against statist intrusion swept away scores of Democratic incumbents. So strong was Tea Party enthusiasm, so energized was the Republican electorate, that even deeply entrenched House Democrats were dislodged: longtime leftist titan James Oberstar of Minnesota, Ike Skelton of Missouri, and John Spratt of South Carolina, to name just a few. In all, Republicans gained 63 seats in the House, 6 in the Senate, a majority of governorships, and 680 additional seats in state legislatures.
Despite historic success nationwide, Republicans would come up short against Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY), a liberal politician in a not-so-liberal district. His margin of victory was razor thin, though: a mere 592 votes out of almost 200,000 cast. Bishop’s Houdini-esque escape act underscores the significance of voter participation in local elections.
With the 2012 race on the horizon, Bishop will once again face Randy Altschuler, a successful businessman whose message of fiscal restraint, tax reform and job creation should resonate with voters who’ve been straightjacketed by the stagnant economy. The Democratic political machine in Suffolk County predictably takes a different view, dismissing Altschuler’s appeal to NY-1 voters.
Like national Democrats, Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer argues that the conditions that propelled the 2010 “wave” no longer exist. As a consequence, he contends that Randy Altschuler will be far less “competitive.” Schaffer’s dismissal is altogether unconvincing. Politico, hardly a shill for the right, recently characterized the rematch as one of the most contestable in the country, a national bellwether. It maintains that an Altschuler victory would signal a shift toward Republicans’ regaining the support of key suburbanites lost to President Obama in 2008. In any case, don’t be fooled by Democrats’ affected nonchalance; Bishop is extremely vulnerable.
Keen on avoiding the brutal primary battle from which Altschuler would emerge, Suffolk County Republicans, Conservatives and Tea Party activists largely coalesced behind him in August. This early infusion of institutional support denies Bishop the benefit of a bruised opponent. Setting aside party divisions puts Altschuler on surer footing, and allows the party to focus on the race ahead.
With a pro-growth, job-centric platform—not to mention his own record of creating private-sector jobs—Randy Altschuler can draw a sharp contrast against Congressman Bishop, who is ensconced in the Washington culture so loathed by voters. Indeed, Congressional job approval is at historic lows. The latest ABC News poll found that only 13 percent of Americans approve of Congress, while 84 percent disapprove. Results in the most recent Gallup poll are even worse, finding that only 11 percent approve.
Bishop’s prospects are further shaken by a pronounced lack of enthusiasm within his own party. Consider that just 43 percent of Democrats are excited about voting in 2012, while Republicans, with 64 percent, are decidedly more passionate about ousting their liberal opposition. With a definable relationship between enthusiasm and voter turnout, the gap is cause for consternation on the left.
Polling trends aside, it is perhaps the poor state of NY-1’s economy that most undermines Bishop’s re-election chances. The non-partisan analysis of the Long Island Association (LIA) makes plain the state of play: For eight straight months, Long Island has lost jobs, with nearly 10,000 fewer available from a year ago. Similarly, the housing market continues to founder; median home prices fell more than 6 percent since last year, while the foreclosure crisis lingers on. In addition, consumers and businesses are burdened with higher taxes and inflation. The Bishop campaign will find it difficult to gain traction under these conditions.
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There is no denying the congressman’s vulnerabilities, but conservatives shouldn’t be overconfident. In fact, even with a unified Republican front, an unpopular and ineffective Congress, a dispirited liberal base, and an invigorated Conservative opposition, if Bishop isn’t effectively challenged on his record, he will likely be re-elected—bad economy and all. For the Altschuler campaign, then, the task is twofold: provide increasingly receptive voters with a clear case for change and force Bishop to address his record. Its exposure will betray him as a politician who masquerades as a centrist while shilling for the left. Consider:
Bishop voted for “cap and trade” legislation, an enviro-statist scheme that would dramatically increase the cost of electricity and fuel, impact job creation and stifle growth. According to the Heritage Foundation, had the bill become law it would have reduced our nation’s GDP by more than $9 trillion between 2012 and 2035. High energy costs would be particularly damaging for NY-1 residents, who already pay some of the highest rates in the country.
Bishop voted against numerous U.S. trade deals, choosing instead to back union interests. In 2005, he voted against legislation that established Free Trade zones between the United States and numerous Latin American nations, including Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. And this past October he joined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to vote against three additional trade measures. The bills would pass, though, strengthening our economic ties with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
Bishop co-sponsored Card Check legislation—a change long sought by union leaders intent on replenishing their ranks and their power. Had this anti-democratic bill become law, it would have eliminated the secret ballot in union elections. For his support on these and other matters, the AFL-CIO gives Bishop a rating of 98 and, as you would expect, loads of union cash.
Bishop backed the $830 billion Stimulus package, a vote he embraces even today, maintaining the economy would be in worse shape if not for its passage. We’ve heard this defense countless times before. But as noted Stanford economist John Taylor reminds us, “The results do not support that view.”
To say that this Keynesian experiment was a failure is too kind. Years after its enactment, 13.1 million Americans remain out of work, millions more are underemployed, and GDP is anemic. Worse, America’s labor force is shrinking as many give up looking for jobs altogether, a condition seen in NY-1 as well. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that “stimulus” spending will actually reduce GDP growth.
Yet, of all Bishop’s galling votes, his support for ObamaCare is the gravamen against him. As recent data demonstrates, the “Affordable Care Act” is already increasing health care costs for families. Over the past year, premiums have gone up 9 percent, reversing a “decade long downtrend in percentage premium increases,” according to the IBD. Such strain could further weaken support for an already unpopular law. 54 percent of Americans now favor repeal.
Of course, much rests on the Supreme Court. Its decision this summer on the constitutionality of ObamaCare could have a seismic political impact. Should the mandate provision be found unconstitutional, President Obama, Bishop and other leftists will be scrambling for cover.
In the meantime, NY-1 constituents should know that their congressman has voted with Democrats 94 percent of the time, in defiance of their clearly stated views. Fortunately, Bishop’s ouster ought to be easy enough to engineer—and that bodes well for the broader political resistance to the Obama Administration.
Brendon S. Peck is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Bshawnp@gmail.com