Steve Israel Retirement Sets Up GOP Takeover Opportunity

by Nathan L. Gonzales January 6, 2016 · 9:28 AM EST

Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel spent years defending competitive seats open seats, but now his retirement leaves one behind.

Israel announced on Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in November after 16 years in the House. His retirement wasn’t a complete surprise, considering there isn’t an empty rung on the Democratic leadership ladder. But the congressman’s exit is notable considering his past leadership roles.

The Long Island-based district is certainly competitive, but has a Democratic lean.

At the presidential level, President Barack Obama carried the district 51-48 percent in 2012 and with 54 percent in 2008, a similar percentage to John Kerry four years earlier.

Further down the ballot, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo received 54 percent in the 3rd in his underwhelming re-election victory in 2014. In 2012, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand carried the 3rd easily, 63-36 percent, in her landslide re-election race.

Democrats also have a 38-31 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans.

But Democrats certainly can’t take the race for granted. Republicans hold all of the state senate seats in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as pointed out by Daily Kos Elections, which can be a sign that the district is more competitive than the federal election results suggest.

Competing in the 3rd will be complicated for both parties because it is covered by the expensive New York City media market, which will require a heavy investment to defend and takeover the seat.

As with the beginning of any open seat race, the field of candidates is only starting to take shape.

Democrats believe they have a strong bench in the district, but, at the same time, there could be a power struggle between the Nassau and Suffolk communities.

The initial list of potential Democratic candidates includes Suffolk County legislator Steve Stern and North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan. Newsday also mentioned Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Nassau Interim Finance Authority Chairman Jon Kaiman.

GOP state Sen. Jack Martins, who was actively exploring the race before Israel’s announcement, looks all but certain to run, and looks like a top contender. He won re-election in 2014 with 55 percent. But other candidates may take a look now that the seat is open.

It would be easy to throw this race into the Tossup category. And Republicans gloated about holding Israel to 55 percent in 2014. But Democrats start the open seat race with a narrow advantage in a presidential year when former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is likely to top the ballot.

We’re changing our rating from Safe to Toss-Ip/Tilt Democratic.

New York’s 3rd District becomes the seventh Democratic seat on our list of competitive House races, compared to 25 seats on the chart currently held by Republicans. But even if Democrats win every race listed as currently competitive (a highly unlikely outcome), the party would still fall four seats short of a majority.