From left to right: Councilwoman Jackie Gordon, Representative Andrew Garbarino, Democrat Robert Zimmerman and Republican Anthony D’Esposito. They are a part of four local races on Long Island that can shift the balance of power in Congress. ILLUSTRATED BY TIM GIORLANDO/THE STATESMAN

Disclosure: Author interned on Jackie Gordon’s campaign last spring.

In the past year, the Taliban fortified its control over Afghanistan, gas prices spiked amid a Russian incursion into Ukraine and inflation climbed to historic highs. 

According to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, Aug. 29, 2021 was the last time more Americans approved of President Joe Biden than disapproved of him — as of Oct. 20, 2022, Biden had a 53% disapproval rating and only a 42.5% approval rating. This created a political environment in which the Republican Party seemed almost certain to retake the House and the Senate, according to CNN.

On the state level, the idea of a sweepingly dominant Democratic party is fizzling out, as more voters are Republican-leaning.

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Bridget Fleming, a Democrat running to succeed Republican Lee Zeldin, boasts the largest financial gap on the island — an almost 3-1 lead over GOP candidate Nick LaLota, who has struggled to gain financial momentum. 

“The Republican Party’s influence on Long Island poses some difficulties for Fleming,” Charles Joseph Burgardt, a junior majoring in history and political science and the secretary for Stony Brook’s College Democrats, said. “But considering the substantial financial support her campaign has received in comparison to Nick LaLota’s campaign, I’d say she’s in a better position to win than LaLota.”

LaLota came to Stony Brook University on Wednesday, Oct. 19 to talk to the College Republicans. Sara Adcock, a junior studying health science and the president of College Republicans, took a different stance than Burghardt.

“[The College Republicans are] pretty confident in his chances,” Adcock said about LaLota. “He has a really strong platform.” 

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Some of these candidates stand to increase the representation of marginalized Long Island communities if elected. 

Robert Zimmerman, running in the 3rd District, would be the first openly gay politician to represent Long Island in Congress. On his campaign website, he writes that “coming of age in the suburbs was a lonely and isolating place,” and recounts a teacher suggesting he pursue conversion therapy. 

Also in Nassau County, Republican Anthony D’Esposito has close ties to the heavily Jewish community he hopes to represent. The former NYPD officer gained praise from Rabbi Anchelle Perl for being involved in the protection of the global Chabad Headquarters in Brooklyn.

Further east, Jackie Gordon would be the first Black woman to represent a rapidly diversifying district. Discussing the importance of representation, she said that “[Hispanic and Black voters] have never seen representation ever in the history of this seat. So yes, [representation] would definitely matter to them.” 

If Democrats retain control of the House, they will likely seek a national codification of abortion rights and an expansion of voting rights — two policy pushes that failed in the last two years due to thin margins in the Senate. 

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According to Burgardt, the Stony Brook College Democrats are working with local campaigns in the area to coordinate employment and volunteer opportunities for their members. 

Burgardt noted that expanding access to abortion and pushing back against the Supreme Court “makes this year’s midterm election particularly important.” 

If Republicans win the House, they have promised to investigate Biden’s troubled withdrawal from Afghanistan, push for increased funding for law enforcement agencies and provide a bully pulpit against what they perceive as oversteps of Progressives’ activism. 

Adcock thinks that Republican candidates have a great chance on Long Island. 

“I think COVID in a lot of ways woke people up to how mismanaged things were under Democratic leadership,” Adcock said.

Long Island is covered by four districts — two in Nassau County are currently represented by Democrats, while two (including the district that covers Stony Brook) are represented by Republicans. 

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Three of the four incumbent representatives are leaving the House this fall. Tom Suozzi, a Glen Cove Democrat, ran for governor in the Democratic primary, and Lee Zeldin, a Shirley Republican, is currently running for governor. Kathleen Rice, a Garden City Democrat, is retiring. Only Andrew Garbarino, a South Shore Republican, remains.

There is recent precedence for the competitiveness of these four races. In the 2020 presidential election, Suffolk County voted for Trump by just 232 votes and became the largest county in the country to support him. 

In the subsequent 2021 local elections, Democrats lost their grip on Nassau County when well-funded incumbent County Executive Laura Curran lost to Republican outsider Bruce Blakeman. Blakeman staked his campaign on staunch opposition to COVID-19 masking rules — an issue with far less salience this election year. 

One objective measure of a candidate’s strength is polling. For local races, polling is generally sparse, and only two Long Island races have been surveyed this summer. 

Congressman Andrew Garbarino leads challenger Jackie Gordon, a town of Babylon Councilwoman and the 2020 challenger. In 2020, Garbarino received 52.9% of the vote, while Gordon only received 46% out of 335,163 reported votes. Meanwhile, Democrat Robert Zimmerman leads his Republican challenger, George Devolder-Santos, by one point in the polls as of Oct. 23.

A majority in the House consists of 218 seats. According to simulations run by FiveThirtyEight, Republicans have an 80% chance of holding the majority of House seats. 

“I’m pretty confident that Long Island and New York is going to turn red this fall,” Adcock said. “I’m very hopeful.”

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CORRECTION: This article was updated on Oct. 24. An earlier version incorrectly identified the 2020 2nd District election results as being from 2022.

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