NEW YORK – The battle for the Republican nomination for New York’s 1st Congressional District between George Demos and State Senator Lee Zeldin is now in the final stretch, but tremors are being felt beyond the normal rumbles of a local political horse race after Eric Cantor’s defeat by a Tea Party candidate. In fact, given Zeldin’s request for Cantor’s help prior to the House Majority Leader’s stunning defeat to Dave Brat last week, and considering he is also backed by quintessential establishment Republican Senator John McCain, this may well be New York’s version of the Brat-Cantor game-changer.
“We are now feeling a tremendous anti-establishment fervor,” Demos said. “People don’t want the candidates selected by the party bosses, they want one that will stand up and fight on behalf of the people,” he said. Like the Brat-Cantor race in Virginia, this is a primary challenge to a Republican incumbent. Though Zeldin certainly did not have Cantor’s stature – meaning that a loss, though an upset, would not be a monumental one – the outcome could be an important indicator of whether the Virginia race was an aberration, or an indicator of things to come.
“I am the anti-establishment candidate,” Demos emphasized. “Every chairman from the state party to the local level has endorsed my opponent, but in the end, people don’t care about those endorsements. They care about who the candidate is, and they hire the person to be their congressman, not the insiders.”
He told TNH that polling data indicates that his candidacy is surging as the June 24 primary approaches, and said “we are confident and cautiously optimistic in this race.”
He knows the establishment is worried he will because the American Action Network, a 501(c)(4) organization which is anonymous but is known to be a Washington, DC-based Republican insider group, just spent $225,000 to fight him. “They obviously wouldn’t be doing this is they did not see that we are well-placed for victory.”
CANTOR TO ZELDIN’S RESCUE?
Prior to Cantor’s loss, Zeldin asked him to come to Long Island to campaign for him. The visit materialized last weekend, but it was transformed into quiet fundraiser appearances and a joint visit to a synagogue.
Demos told TNH that “it is shocking that Zeldin thinks that bringing in a defeated representative of the Washington establishment was going to help him with Long Island voters.”
The main lesson he has learned as a campaigner is that “you have to bypass the political apparatus and reach out directly to the voters.”
Demos has been working hard on the campaign trail morning until evening for months, often joined by his wife Chrysa and their baby Angelo, whom he called “the real star of the campaign, and he appreciates the support of the Greek-American community, which has provided funds and volunteers.
He thanks Republicans Demos admires, like former governor George Pataki and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, for supporting him in ads, but there is no substitute for knocking on doors.
“Voters want to see me and look me in the eye and ask me what I stand for. I have to earn their confidence to be their congressman, and only I can do that,” he said.
The ads are helping narrow the gap, however. The latest emphasize that Zeldin has voted for numerous tax increases. At the start of the campaign, Zeldin’s votes for “Obamacare,” was the number one issue.
But since Cantor’s defeat, “the most important issue is establishment versus non-establishment,” Demos said, and noted Cantor was not considered conservative on issues that mattered to conservative voters.” On immigration reform “what he was pushing sounds to a lot of people like amnesty,” he said.