Local residents who stayed up all night Tuesday to find out who will be their next representative in Congress are still waiting for the final word.
The tight race between Congressman Tim Bishop and Republican challenger Randy Altschuler has still not been called, and Mr. Bishop said he’d wait until the absentee ballots were counted to claim victory.
The incumbent Southampton Democrat was leading the St. James businessman by fewer than 3,500 votes in New York’s 1st District race, according to unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections, but they did not include a reported 9,500 absentee ballots.
Mr. Bishop called it the most heated election of his political career “by far.”
“My first campaign was when I went to unseat an incumbent and to win that by a narrow margin is one thing,” Mr. Bishop said of his two-point win over Felix Grucci in 2002. “But to be an incumbent and hang on by this kind of margin shows you how tightly contested the race was.”
It was so tightly contested, the Altschuler camp was still holding out hope Wednesday that things would break their way.
“The 1st Congressional District race is too close to call,” said campaign spokesman Rob Ryan in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “Our election lawyer is currently collecting needed information at the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Thousands of absentee ballots are in play and that number is sure to increase over the next few days. We plan to proceed in a judicious fashion until every vote has been actually counted.”
But by late Wednesday afternoon, the Bishop campaign was highly skeptical that absentee ballots could sway the outcome of the race.
“The only people who think this race is ‘too close to call’ are on Randy Altschuler’s payroll,” said Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider. “Tim Bishop is leading by a solid margin, which will only grow as we count absentee ballots. For the record, the AP has called this race for Tim Bishop and the State Republican party asked for ballots to be impounded in a district upstate, but not in the 1st Congressional District.”
If the results hold up, Mr. Bishop would be the first East End congressman elected to five terms in 40 years — Democrat Otis Pike of Riverhead served 18 years in the House before retiring in 1978.
But Mr. Bishop would be serving in the minority this time around. The GOP was expected to have won at least 60 seats in the House, once all the votes are finalized. It needed 39 to take control.
Mr. Altschuler’s defeat at the hands of Mr. Bishop would be one of the few disappointments suffered by Republicans Tuesday.
And it’s not for a lack of trying. Mr. Bishop’s seat, in a district where registered Republicans outnumber any other party’s registration number, was a major focal point for GOP and Conservative leaders for the past two years.
Mr. Altschuler, who spent $3 million of his own money on the long campaign, tried to capitalize on anti-Democratic sentiment nationwide, calling Mr. Bishop a “rubber stamp” for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership — which took a major hit across the country Tuesday.
Knowing what happened elsewhere around the country, Mr. Bishop was somewhat somber following his apparent victory Tuesday.
“It’s hard to be elated when I know many of my fellow public servants have had a tough night,” he said. “What we need to do is dig in and fight back.”
The local race for Assembly is also still too close to call, with Republican challenger Dan Losquadro leading incumbent Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham) by just 40 votes. Mr. Losquadro believed he would win the race, despite the close results.
“We’re confident that I will win this because we were aggressive with absentee ballots,” he said Tuesday night.
Mr. Alessi told his supporters it was still way too close to call.
“The election isn’t over,” he said. “It’s just beginning.”
Longtime Senator Ken LaValle was the only local candidate able to claim a certain win Tuesday night. He gave his victory speech in his landslide 30-point trouncing of Democratic challenger Jennifer Maertz of Rocky Point three hours before the final votes were even tallied.
“It always feels great to win,” Mr. LaValle said, “but it’s all about getting to the number 32. Winning the majority is critically important to my district, Long Island and the state.”
That balance of power in the Senate was also too close to call Wednesday with Democrats claiming they had held on to their majority early Wednesday morning, but several newspapers were calling close races in favor of the GOP. The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Senate could wind up with a 31-31 split.
Long Island Senators Brian Foley (D-Blue Point) and Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) — who both voted in favor of the controversial MTA payroll tax — appeared to have lost their seats Tuesday, but several other races throughout the state were too close to call.
Samantha Brix and Jennifer Gustavson contributed reporting to this story.