Friday, 27 Nov 2020

Trump’s Weakened Hold on Long Island Puts 2 G.O.P. House Seats at Risk

Peter King is leaving Congress, and Lee Zeldin could be vulnerable. The elections in the two districts will be “a referendum on Trump,” a strategist said.


By Sarah Maslin Nir

MASSAPEQUA PARK, N.Y. — Just to the right of the register at Village Wines & Spirits, a bottle of Virginia chardonnay bore a label that suggested that it was best paired with Republicans: It was from Trump Winery.

“Some people love it and want to take a picture with it and take it home,” one of the shop’s owners, Eric Kaczmarski, said. “For some customers, it’s just triggering.”

The polarizing reactions in this New York City suburb are understandable: Although Democrats now slightly outnumber Republicans on Long Island, the area still retains its conservative roots, especially out east.

In Suffolk County, the Republican incumbent, Representative Lee Zeldin, is an ardent supporter of the Trump administration; the district just to the west is held by Peter T. King, a 14-term Republican who counts himself among the president’s closer friends.

But Democratic leaders believe that this November’s election may present a rare opportunity for them to seize one or both of the House seats. The two contests are on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program, with Democrats pointing to three factors that could lead to possible victory: President Trump’s deepening unpopularity; the growing number of Democrats in the area; and the fact that Mr. King, the longest-serving Republican in New York’s congressional delegation, is not seeking re-election.

“I do think that to some extent these candidates’ fortunes rise and fall with the president,” said Chapin D. Fay, a Republican strategist who ran Mr. Zeldin’s 2014 congressional primary campaign, but is no longer involved.

“This is going to be a referendum on Trump,” he added. For the Democrats on Long Island, “That is the strategy they’re left with,” he said, “and it may work if the poll numbers are accurate and they get worse.”

The challenge for Mr. Zeldin and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Garbarino, a Republican state assemblyman vying to succeed Mr. King, is to gauge how much they should tether their campaigns to Mr. Trump before doing so becomes a liability.

Registered active Republican voters outnumber Democrats by roughly 5,000 in Mr. Zeldin’s district, where processions of trucks flying Trump banners could be seen heading down Montauk Highway on many recent weekends. Suffolk County voters favored Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a nearly eight-point margin.

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