Is Steve Israel In Trouble?

by Christine Sisto
The political climate and a strong opponent threaten the DCCC chairman.

A prominent Democratic congressman may be vulnerable in November — and in one of the country’s most solidly Democratic states. Political commentators speculate that the 2014 elections will yield many victories for Republicans, and one of the less-publicized races involves 13-year congressman Steve Israel, whose Third District in New York encompasses parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties along with a chunk of the borough of Queens. Israel has been the chairmen of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) since 2011.

“To understand how bad the environment is for House Democrats, DCCC Chairman Steve Israel need only look at his own district, where a new poll shows that even he should be nervous,” National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Executive Director Liesl Hickey wrote in a February memo. Israel and his colleagues all enter the election year with incredibly weak approval numbers, and they will all be forced to run with an unpopular president spouting an unpopular agenda.”

The memo goes on to list the results of a NRCC poll indicating Israel’s North Shore district is 43 percent Republican and 42 percent Democrat. Only 37 percent of Israel’s constituents approved of his job performance at the time, and 33 percent believed he deserves re-election.

That information may have come as a surprise to Israel, who has been in office since 2001 and won his 2012 re-election with 58 percent of the vote.

However, Israel’s strong ties to unpopular national politicians like Nancy Pelosi, who nominated him to be DCCC chair, may be his undoing. “Steve Israel has been a cheerleader for Barack Obama and the Obama agenda . . . since . . . Nancy Pelosi appointed Steve Israel as the chairman of the DCCC,” Israel’s opponent Grant Lally tells National Review Online. “He was a key Obama ally in whipping the Obamacare bill through Congress.”

Lally, who ran for Congress in 1994 and 1996, may just be the one to beat Israel. A successful attorney and publisher with an impressive résumé, Lally is the head of the Irish-American Republicans and was one of the leading players in the Miami recount during President George W. Bush’s 2000 election.

A May Newsmax story asserted, “Grant Lally May Just Beat DCCC’s Steve Israel in NY Race,” citing Lally’s presence on both the Republican and Conservative lines as proof that he has a good shot at the seat. “There are four relatively ‘fair fight’ districts in Long Island, and the 3rd CD is the most Republican,” Lally told Newsmax at the time. Indeed, the district is known as a swing district, and this is often cited as the reason that Pelosi chose Israel as the DCCC chairman.

“Israel has been an apologist and an enabler of some of the worst excesses of the Obama administration,” Lally said, “I want to help restore some normalcy to the American government . . . and I’d like to see this country return to being internationally competitive.”

Israel, however, seems to be attempting to change this reputation. He and nine members of Congress are in Israel this week, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Unlike his Republican opponents, Israel is not expecting any upsets in 2014. “It’s a tough election,” he has said, “But it’s not a 2010 tea party election . . .  I think that the climate is steady . . .  It will not be a wave election.”

— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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