WASHINGTON – In the lobby of the L’Enfant Hotel on Sunday afternoon, Republican hopeful Randy Altschuler said there was nothing presumptuous about his attending the orientation for new congressmen, even though the votes are still being counted back in his Long Island district.
“They only give the orientation once,” Altschuler said. “All the candidates who are in the same situation are down here. So to the extent that I’m fortunate enough to be elected, it would be doing a disservice to my future constituents if I wasn’t here.”
At the moment, Altschuler is clinging to a 383 vote lead over the Democratic incumbent, Tim Bishop, who was widely thought to be in potential danger, but only if the Republican wave was overwhelming. On election night, Bishop appeared to be leading by a narrow margin, but Altschuler never conceded the race, and now, after more counting, it’s Altschuler who has opened up a narrow lead, and Bishop who is calling for a hand recount.
The closeness of the race gives Altschuler a slightly different perspective on the question of what exactly his mandate from voters might be.
“Look, the election results speak for themselves,” Alstchuler said. “Whichever one of us wins this race is going to win with 50 percent of the vote, give or take a few votes. So that means there’s 50 percent of the district that voted for the other guy. And that means that you really need to represent everybody and that means not voting 99 percent of the time with your party–either party.”
In general, Altschuler speaks in support of the Republicans’ national campaign message–cutting spending, defunding “Obamacare”–but he rejected the notion that Republicans should simply stonewall Democratic initiatives.
“I can’t talk for the American people, but I can say in my district I don’t think there’s any mandate to not get something done and to not work in a bipartisan fashion,” Altschuler said.
It remains to be seen how much this freshman class–a band of proud outsiders who mostly ran against the ruling class–can accomplish in what has always been a slow-moving, highly-deliberative body.
Altschuler said he has yet to speak to incoming Speaker John Boehner, but that he had been in regular contact with the party’s whip, Eric Cantor, who endorsed him during the primary. (If Altschuler wins, he will join Cantor as the only Jewish Republicans in Congress.)
Boehner has said he does not intend to act with the same urgency of, say, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose Contract With America pledged that certain reforms would be brought to the House floor within 100 days.
But Altschuler rejected the notion that the public should have to wait too long for Republicans to make good on their campaign promises.
“I think [the public] can expect things to get accomplished,” Altschuler said. “I come from the business world and people don’t talk in terms of years for getting things done. Businesses can’t move that slowly and we as a country can’t afford to move that slowly. It’s bureaucracy and partisanship that’s slowing it down.”
Altschuler said no one had approached him yet about who he might support for the newly-created Freshman Leader position, and that he had not yet decided on one of the new class’s first big decisions–whether or not to raise the federal debt ceiling.
“To be honest, I’ve really been focused on the race,” Altschuler said. “I’m trying to get up to speed here so that if I do win, we’ll jump right into the issues, but right now it would just be premature.”
As he tries to get his bearings, and as the First District continues to wade through affidavit and absentee ballots, there are already rumblings of who might be in line to challenge Altschuler in two years, should he emerge as the winner. And the most intriguing speculation has centered on Alec Baldwin. (A spokesman told The Observer he is not, in fact interested; Altschuler made a point of saying his camp was not pushing the idea, as some reports had speculated.)
The two have crossed paths before.
“I saw him once,” Altschuler said. “I was at a coffee place in Southampton, and he opened up the door for me. That was a great moment. I was like, ‘Hey, that’s Alec Baldwin.’”