Surrounded on three sides by water, New York's 1st district is the only one in the Empire State on firm redistricting ground. But politically, it's on the bubble.
Five-term Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop is likely to face businessman Randy Altschuler in a tossup rematch in eastern Long Island that the Democratic and Republican national committees are watching closely. Bishop squeaked out a 593-vote victory in 2010.
With the state's redistricting process in chaos, the 1st is one of a few districts almost certain to see little change in the 2012 redraw. The Suffolk County-based district needs to pick up about 11,000 new residents, but Democrats and Republicans there expect the political contours of the district to remain quite similar.
"It's going to be tight, no matter what," a longtime New York Republican operative said. "When push comes to shove, [it] is a district that's really sliced right down the middle, Republican and Democrat."
Eleven months before voters go to the polls, the contours of the race are starting to come into focus. So is the line of attack for both candidates: jobs, jobs, jobs.
Altschuler, who faced a fierce primary in 2010 that sapped his political and financial capital, appears likely to have a much smoother route to the nomination this cycle. He faces 2010 candidate George Demos, an attorney, but key state Republicans have lined up behind Altschuler this time. GOP operatives familiar with the district hope that will give him a boost, allowing him to concentrate on Bishop early on.
In an interview last week, Altschuler did exactly that. Calling Bishop a "creature of Washington," he said the 1st district Congressman's "job is to try to create an environment so that small businesses, which are the foundation of the economy in Suffolk County, can thrive."
"He has failed miserably," Altschuler said, adding that the campaign would be a "referendum on Tim Bishop."
Altschuler stressed his personal story and his business bona fides.
"I'm a private-sector businessman. Self-made — grew up with a single mother — who successfully created two companies that have created jobs all around the world and the United States," he said. "I'm going to apply that when I'm our Congressman to help bring back some of the jobs to Long Island that Tim Bishop has let walk out the door."
The departure of jobs is a potent line of attack, but it cuts sharply both ways. Democrats will attack Altschuler, as they did in 2010, for his former business OfficeTiger, which outsourced jobs to India. And they note that if that line of attack was successful enough to beat him in a truly abysmal environment for Democrats, the 2012 climate doesn't bode well for his chances.
"It's just a different year," said one New York Democrat with knowledge of the district. "Their fundamental problem is Randy Altschuler is still an outsourcer who sent thousands of jobs overseas in an election that's going to be about the economy."
Altschuler brushed off this line of attack, repeating that he had "created jobs all around the world and around this country."
Increased name identification should be an added advantage for Altschuler this cycle, but he'll have to work hard to make sure the outsourcing attacks don't stick.