Republicans Optimistic About Beating Bishop
Spurned by their preferred nominee, Republicans in Washington, D.C., and on Long Island are nonetheless increasingly hopeful about their prospects against freshman Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) in the unpredictable 1st district this year.
Bill Manger, a wealthy 39-year-old former U.S. Department of Transportation official, has emerged as the likely Republican nominee. He has raised about $350,000 so far and recently received the tacit blessing of the powerful Suffolk County GOP organization.
“We feel real good about him,” said Bo Harmon, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “He’s a sharp guy. He’s been in the community a long time, knows a lot of people, and really seems to connect with folks.”
The hurdle for Manger, who spent four years on the Southhampton Village Board, is raising his profile in a district that is largely served by the prohibitively expensive New York City media market.
“The Republicans had a recruiting failure in this district,” said Kori Bernards, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The candidate that they have has a major challenging becoming known in the New York media market, especially with the success of Representative Bishop.”
That would not have been a problem for Brookhaven Town Supervisor John Jay LaValle (R), the man national and local Republicans were hoping would run. Private polls showed that LaValle, who runs the largest jurisdiction in the eastern Long Island district and looks like a movie star, had roughly the same name recognition as Bishop.
According to the North Shore Sun newspaper, LaValle recently said of Manger: “He’s nobody, really.”
Still, with dogged fundraising and an old fashioned shoe leather campaign, Manger is starting to at least attract the attention and respect of party activists. He resigned his post as senior adviser to the U.S. Maritime Administration last summer and formed an exploratory committee for a Congressional run — well before LaValle finally made his intentions known in late February.
LaValle’s timing may have served Manger well. Veteran Suffolk County legislator Michael Caracciolo (R) also hoped to run for the House this year, but made few formal preparations because he assumed LaValle would be a candidate. Late last month, Caracciolo came to the conclusion that he could not “abandon my constituencies by taking the time to raise $20,000 a day” for the Congressional race, and quietly abandoned the idea of running.
Still, Caracciolo, who is a maverick in local GOP politics, said he plans to seek the House seat in 2006 and will prepare in earnest after Election Day. Asked whether this meant he believed Manger would lose, Caracciolo replied, “It’ll be one of those late-night, nail-biter elections that everyone’ll be watching.”
That was certainly the case in 2002, when Bishop came from behind to defeat then-Rep. Felix Grucci (R) by 2,700 votes. Grucci was heavily favored to start against Bishop, who was then a little-known college official.
But a series of missteps by the incumbent made the race tight in the final weeks, and Democratic groups spent heavily on Bishop’s behalf at the end.
Grucci himself was something of an accidental Congressman. The district had been held since 1994 by then-Rep. Michael Forbes, who was elected as a Republican but switched to the Democratic Party in 1999 (he had defeated four-term Democratic Rep. George Hochbrueckner in the Republican tidal wave of ’94).
Forbes wound up losing the 2000 Democratic primary to an unknown and underfunded retired librarian who lost the general election to Grucci, who was then, as LaValle is now, Brookhaven town supervisor.
The 1st is about as swing a district as there is. It has a slight Republican edge in registration, and went for New York Gov. George Pataki (R) in 2002 and then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R) in the 2000 Senate race. But it gave Al Gore an 8-point victory over George W. Bush in 2000, and former President Bill Clinton also won there. The district has a significant and persuadable independent population.
Manger is hoping that partisan politics in Washington sway undecided voters.
“Having a freshman in the minority party in the House means that you’re not going to get the consideration on a whole lot of issues,” he said. “A lot of people have agreed with me. I don’t think anyone thinks the Democrats are going to retake the House in November.”
Manger said he is also telling voters that Bishop is too liberal for the district.
John Schneider, a spokesman for Bishop, rejected those arguments, noting that his boss will bring home $45 million for his district in the transportation bill that the House passed last week.
“We’ve been focusing on what we can, which is what the Congressman does,” Schneider said. “We’ve been addressing local needs and what the district needs. Tim’s been out there. He works Saturdays. He works Sundays.”
Bishop has also been working the fundraising circuit. While Schneider could not say what Bishop will show in his next fundraising report due on April 15, the campaign had $324,000 in the bank at the end of 2003.
“Congressman Bishop is in as good a shape as he can be expected to be in at this stage,” Schneider said.
But Manger, a former investment counselor and son of a prominent Manhattan doctor, is personally wealthy. He seeded his campaign with a $17,000 loan, which has now been re-paid, and “would consider,” he said, dropping significantly more in.
While Manger’s goal is to raise about $2 million for the race, Mike Dawidziak, his general consultant, said the campaign believes it can avoid advertising on New York City TV and radio stations.
“He can get known on a grassroots level,” Dawidziak said. “And then local cable TV. And local radio is a very good buy.”
But Manger may have to deal with charges that he is a carpetbagger. Although he split his time growing up between the city and Long Island, he went to school in Manhattan.
“People on Long Island don’t like weekenders,” said one Long Island Democrat.
Manger has put together a Long Island-based political team so far. Dawidziak is a consultant and pollster based in the 1st district. His finance director, Diane Weir, is a former East Hampton town official. His campaign manager, Jake Menges, is a former top aide to ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) who grew up on Long Island.
“I think this could turn into the number one race in the country competitively — maybe one of them,” Dawidziak said.