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Rating change: King retirement weakens GOP hold on New York seat

Long Island district is suburban, but differs from places that swung to Democrats in 2018

Rep. Peter T. King’s decision to retire makes his New York seat more vulnerable for Republicans. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Years of predictions finally came true Monday as New York Republican Peter T. King announced he will not seek reelection in the 2nd District. His decision leaves behind another competitive open seat in the suburbs for the GOP to defend.

In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the southern Long Island district by a significant margin, 53 percent to 44 percent, but the longtime congressman’s narrow 6-point margin of victory last fall is fueling Democratic optimism, particularly now that he is not running.

The 2nd is not a typical suburban seat that has shifted away from Trump, and it belongs in a separate category from districts in Orange County, California, or Northern Virginia. There’s a sizable enough white, noncollege-educated electorate in the eastern part of the district to keep it competitive.

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo carried the 2nd by 4 points in 2018, even as King was defeating Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley 53 percent to 47 percent. 

Field could get crowded

King already had a Democratic challenger this cycle in Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon. As an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, she entered the race with high expectations. She had $127,000 in her campaign account on Sept. 30, along with endorsements from EMILY’s List and End Citizens United.

Now that the seat is open, other Democrats who weren’t excited about challenging King will likely take a fresh look. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is likely to field some calls, and Grechen Shirley is now considering another run.

Potential Republican candidates include former state Sen. Chuck Fuschillo, state Sen. Phil Boyle, Assemblyman Mike LiPetri, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, Islip Town Councilwoman Mary Kate Mullen, and Nassau County Legislator James Kennedy. King’s daughter, Erin, was a local officeholder and viewed as a likely successor, but she moved to North Carolina.

Since Republicans are unlikely to unveil a candidate as strong as King, the seat must be considered more vulnerable. Inside Elections is changing its rating of the race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican.

At this point in the cycle, the 2nd is not quite as vulnerable as Texas’ 22nd and 24th districts. Those are similarly open seats in suburban territory, but Trump won them more narrowly in 2016.

King is the 20th Republican to not seek reelection this cycle, and 16 of those members are retiring without seeking another office. In comparison, eight Democrats are not seeking reelection, including five who aren’t seeking another office.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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