Gizzi on Politics September 7, 2009

Bishop Checked by GOP Knight In NY-1

Earlier this year, Rep. Tim Bishop (D.-N.Y.) made headlines after a town meeting in his Long Island district at which hundreds of angry constituents chanted slogans and waved placards. Bishop’s meeting in Seatucket, as the local Times Beacon-Record reported on June 23, “quickly turned loud and combative as hundreds of demonstrators from across Suffolk County confronted the Democrat on healthcare reform, federal bailout and environmental issues.”

Bishop later had to be escorted to his car about a half mile away by five county policemen. As the crowd shouted and waved signs, the Democratic congressman refused to stop and take their questions about the issues that prompted the uproar.

“Basically, it’s the Tea Party folks,” is how Bishop staffer Jon Schneider dismissed the demonstrators when he talked to reporters  But whether the outrage at Bishop’s very liberal record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 2%) extends beyond the “Tea Party folks” will soon be tested, as Bishop faces his first significant Republican challenge since he went to Congress in ’02.    

“They’re calling him ‘Bailout Bishop’ here and, boy, are they mad!” certain Republican nominee Randy Altschuler told me over lunch during a recent trip to Washington, referring to the Democrat’s unpopular votes to use federal dollars to bail out free-spending Wall Street financial titans. Altschuler, a Harvard Business School graduate who launched his own company out of his apartment, made it clear he would have opposed the bailouts as well expanding the government role in GM and Chrysler.  

Altschuler’s life story is right out of the movies. The grandson of Polish immigrants, Randy and his siblings were raised by their single mother. He earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton and worked his way through Harvard Business as an investment banker with the high-powered firm of Lufkin, Donaldson, and Jenrette. After a period as a Fulbright Scholar in Austria and a brief stint in real estate, Altschuler co-founded Office Tiger, a company that provides document-processing, accounting and other business-support services. Office Tiger grew into a global business and in ’06, it was sold to R.R. Donnelly Company for $250 million.

Altschuler stayed on with Donnelly and, along with his physician wife Cheryl, became active in community affairs on Long Island. Until now, his political activities have been confined largely to working with friends such as 2006 gubernatorial nominee John Faso and Manhattan lawyer Ed Cox in trying to rebuild the Empire State Republican Party.

Model Plan for the Northeast

“I decided to become a candidate primarily because I had had enough of the incumbent’s voting record,” Altschulder told me, recalling how he had read the ratings of different groups and concluded that Bishop “was more liberal than [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman] Charles Rangel,” another New York Democrat. Along with Bishop’s down-the-line backing of the Obama Administration on bailouts and federal spending, his string of bad votes on the 2nd Amendment will be a major issue in the fall, the GOP hopeful believes.

In contrast to recent Republican standard-bearers in the 1st District, Altschuler has cobbled together what Newt Gingrich has called a “model plan for Republicans to re-take the Northeast.” Chris Maloney, a former operative in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, is campaign manager and the Altschuler team has also signed on veteran pollster and strategist John McLaughlin. In addition, New York State’s Conservative Party is likely to give its ballot line to Republican Altschuler.

It has been said that the 1st District should be back in Republican hands. It is home to roughly 169,000 Republicans, 135,000 Democrats, and 130,000 independents. But because of either a division in Republican ranks in some election years or the failure of the area GOP to recruit a heavyweight contender in others, former college administrator Bishop has been the 1st District congressman since 2002.  

“This time will be different,” promises Randy Altschuler.

Reid The Bully

History is full of stories of fights between major newspapers and politicians. Sharp-tongued William Loeb and his Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader were credited with making and breaking numerous politicians in the Granite State. In Nevada, crusty Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun waged a protracted battle with longtime (1932-54) Silver State conservative Democratic Sen. Pat McCarran. Greenspan also threw some particularly vicious ink at Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R.-Wis.) in 1952, writing, without any evidence, that the Badger State senator “seldom dates girls and if he does, he laughingly describes it as window dressing.”  

It is usually the publisher and not the office-holder who picks the fight. That is not the case this year in Nevada. Last week, embattled Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who has a nasty temper, lit into the advertising director of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  

“I hope you go out of business,” Reid told the Review-Journal’s Bob Brown before the Senate majority leader addressed a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce luncheon August 26. Brown, who has nothing to do with the news coverage or editorial pages of the Silver State’s largest newspaper, was posing for a picture with Reid. Brown, needless to say, was startled by the comment.

Reid’s blast came at a time when a just-completed Mason-Dixon poll showed the four-term senator (lifetime ACU rating: 21%) losing re-election next year to either of his two announced Republican foes. According to the statewide survey, State Republican Chairman and former State Sen. Sue Lowden now defeats Reid 45% to 40%. Mason-Dixon also showed real estate developer Danny Tarkanian, son of a revered University of Nevada basketball coach, likewise beating Reid — this time 49% to 38%.  

After snarling at Bob Brown, Reid went on to tell the Chamber of Commerce luncheon that, according to the Review-Journal, “he wanted to let everyone know that he wants the Review-Journal to continue selling advertising because the Las Vegas Sun is delivered inside the Review-Journal.”  

“Such behavior cannot go unchallenged,” fired back Review-Journal Editor Sherman Frederick. In a subsequent column, Frederick deemed Reid’s remark “a full-on threat perpetrated by a bully who has forgotten that he was elected to office to protect Nevadans, not sound like he’s shaking them down.”  

“No citizen should expect this kind of behavior from a U.S. senator,” said Frederick, who branded Reid’s treatment of Brown “boorish” and “asinine.” He also drew a line in the sand for Reid, vowing that “we can’t let this bully behavior pass without calling out Sen. Reid. If he’ll try it with the Review Journal, you can bet that he’s tried it with others. So today, we serve notice on Sen. Reid that this creepy tactic will not be tolerated.”

Garamendi in Harmer’s Way

The first stage of the special election to succeed Rep. Lynn Tauscher (D.-Calif.) in the Golden State’s 10th District is over. In a crowded field, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi topped a crowded Democratic field to succeed Tauscher, who resigned to take a top State Department post. Garamendi, who also served as state insurance commissioner and as a state legislator, came under fire from primary opponents because he was not a resident of the district.  

The issue of residency gives hope to Republicans in the strongly Democratic 10th District. Their nominee is conservative David Harmer, businessman and son of Ronald Reagan’s onetime lieutenant governor, John Harmer.  The special election to decide Tauscher’s successor is next month.