When Democratic Rep. Steve Israel announced his retirement earlier this year, he said he wanted to leave Congress during a presidential year to give Democrats a greater shot at holding his seat.
But Republicans are pointing to new poll commissioned by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to House GOP leadership, and obtained by Roll Call to underscore the competitiveness of his district.
The poll, conducted Jan. 8-11 by Harper Polling, gave Republicans a 4-point edge on a generic congressional ballot, inside the margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent. Among independents, 48 percent said they'd choose a Republican. Harper surveyed 455 likely voters using Interactive Voice Response on landlines.
When the generic ballot was tethered to a hypothetical question about presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton being president, 47 percent of likely voters said they'd rather vote for a congressional Republican who "will be a check and balance" to Clinton, while 42 percent said they'd prefer to vote for a Democratic ally at the congressional level who will help Clinton "pass her agenda."
Likely voters in the 3rd District identified "national security and terrorism" as the most important issue in 2016 at a much higher rate than "jobs and the economy," which Republicans are taking as another sign the district is leaning in their favor.
Republicans see the relative unpopularity of Democratic leadership as an opportunity to run a campaign tying a Democratic nominee to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for example, who had a 37 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable rating in the poll. The numbers for Clinton were similar to President Barack Obama's 46 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable ratings.
As Nathan Gonzales wrote after Israel's retirement announcement, his departure gives Republicans a decent chance to flip the district . The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call moved the district rating from Safe Democrat to Tilts Democrat .
Republicans dominate at the state Senate level in Suffolk and Nassau Counties, a potential sign of strength for the party at the congressional level.
Still, Democrats have done well here at higher levels. Obama carried the district 51-48 percent in 2012 and 54-46 percent in 2008. Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand carried the 3rd District in their respective re-elections.
With the race having only been open a few weeks, and the field not yet settled on either side, more polling that tests actual candidates will be needed to assess the temperature of the district.