ALBANY, N.Y. - Nearly two years after President Joe Biden won New York's 3rd Congressional District by a double-digit margin, his wife, Jill Biden, returned to Long Island this week in an effort to help Democrats retain the seat.
There was an important reason for the visit: With three open seats up for grabs - and a competitive race for a GOP-held seat - the outcome of Long Island's 2022 midterm races could play a deciding role in who controls Congress next year.
"New Yorkers, what you do on Nov. 8 won't just set the course of the future of your state, you'll decide the future of this country, as well," Jill Biden said as she campaigned for Robert Zimmerman, a Democrat running against Republican George Santos to succeed Rep. Tom Suozzi, who ran unsuccessfully for governor.
New district lines give Democrats more of an edge in the four matchups compared to the 2020 elections, with just one of them - New York's 2nd Congressional District in Suffolk County - favoring former President Donald Trump last cycle.
But Republicans' gains in last year's municipal elections on Long Island should not be overlooked when gauging the districts' competitiveness in 2022, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
"It was a red tsunami on Long Island," he said, noting that the GOP's strategy of localizing issues, like crime, has resonated in the region. "That political momentum and consciousness is still very much in play on Long Island and makes even a district like the 4th, where [Joe] Biden won by more points than in any of the other districts, potentially in play."
Democrats' decision to deploy Jill Biden to help Zimmerman, a Democrat in a historically blue district - in one of the country's bluest states - further underscores concerns about the party's prospects on Long Island.
"At this point in the Democratic planning, I think they had hoped to be sending Jill Biden to districts where Democrats were trying to flip Republican seats - not Democratic seats where her husband had won by eight, ten, fourteen points," Levy said in an interview. "What the hell is she doing in the 3rd district of Long Island?"
Here's a look at the key Long Island House races:
NY-01: Bridget Fleming (D) v. Nick LaLota (R)
POLITICO Forecast Rating: Leans R
Republican Nick LaLota and Democrat Bridget Fleming will square off in a race to replace Congressman Lee Zeldin, the GOP's 2022 gubernatorial nominee.
The newly redrawn district on the eastern tip of Long Island favored Trump in the 2020 election by a four-point margin. But it's now seen as more competitive since redistricting changes made it a complete toss-up - at least on paper.
LaLota, the chief of staff of the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature who has served various roles in government, won a three-way primary in August broadly based on the strength of each candidate's ties to Trump.
Fleming, a Suffolk County legislator, former prosecutor and Southampton Town councilwoman, ran unopposed in the primary.
Money race: LaLota entered the final weeks of the campaign with a cash balance of more than $155,500. The campaign reported raising a total of nearly $1.3 million and spending $1.1 million between January and Oct. 19.
Fleming, meanwhile, reported a balance of about $230,500 heading into the final stretch of the campaign, according to campaign finance records. She raised a total of about $2.5 million and spent $2.2 million between January 2021 and Oct. 19. Outside groups have also spent $1 million opposing LaLota, compared to very little against Fleming, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks legislative spending.
NY-02: Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R) vs. Jackie Gordon (D)
POLITICO Forecast Rating: Likely R
Rep. Andrew Garbarino will face off against Democrat Jackie Gordon as he looks to hold on to his 2nd Congressional District seat.
The matchup is a repeat of the 2020 contest, in which Garbarino defeated Gordon by seven percentage points and Trump narrowly won the district to keep veteran Rep. Peter King's seat for Republicans when he retired. The 2022 race, however, has some key differences that could affect the results at the ballot box.
Most notably, Garbarino is now running as an incumbent with a record of his work for the district. But with redistricting rewriting the borders of the 2nd Congressional District - and making it slightly more competitive for Democrats though still favoring Trump - it remains to be seen how much of an incumbent advantage the Republican will see.
On the campaign trail, Garbarino has touted his work as the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee's Cybersecurity Infrastructure Protection and Innovation subpanel, as well as his office's help to more than 3,000 constituents on issues ranging from passport appointments to small business loans. And he's garnered praise for his bipartisan approach to politics, including his vote to certify the 2020 presidential election results after the Jan. 6 insurrection and support for the massive infrastructure bill.
But Garbarino told POLITICO that's just some of what he hopes to accomplish in Washington.
"We delivered on some promises, but the work's not done," he said. "I've been successful on some things, but one term sometimes isn't enough to get everything done."
At the top of that to-do list, he said, is addressing the shortfall in healthcare funding for 9/11 first responders and changing the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which has hurt middle to upper-class New Yorkers due to its high property taxes, particularly on Long Island.
Gordon said that it's time for someone else to represent the district, arguing that her opponent "hasn't shown up in certain communities" that lean Democratic.
"Congressional members are supposed to be in the community, listening to the people, bringing their voices to Washington. The folks in this district, I think, they're feeling that and understanding that - and that's the shift that I feel in the district on the ground," she said in an interview. "There is definitely a movement happening in this district. They are going to come out and they're going to let their voices be heard: they are not happy with the current representative."
The Democrat said although Garbarino touts his support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, "he doesn't get to stand on that." She argued that "there are countless numbers of other votes that do not represent the entire district."
If sent to Congress, Gordon said she'd prioritize codifying the abortion protections that existed under Roe v. Wade nationally, passing "common sense gun safety measures" to prevent more school shootings and repealing the SALT cap.
The Democrat raised a total of $1.6 million and spent nearly $1.6 million between January 2021 and Oct. 19. Garbarino, meanwhile, raised $3.3 million and spent $2.8 million during the same period.
NY-03: Robert Zimmerman (D) v. George Santos (R)
POLITICO Forecast Rating: Leans D
In addition to sending Jill Biden to Long Island to campaign for Zimmerman, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has included the open seat - which the party has held for years - in its "Red to Blue" program. The move gave Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member and longtime public affairs executive, additional resources in the campaign.
Republicans, meanwhile, have rallied around Santos, an investment banker who unsuccessfully challenged Suozzi in 2020.
The matchup between Zimmerman and Santos - who both identify as LGBTQ - has also drawn national attention due to its historic significance as the first U.S. House general election contest in history between two openly gay men. The candidates, however, have been quick to note that's where their similarities end.
"It's not about the fact that he's gay and I'm gay," Zimmerman told POLITICO.
Zimmerman, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1982, has accused Santos of supporting "extremist fringe behavior," including the Jan. 6 rioters and a national ban on abortion - characterizations which the Republican has rejected.
"This is a close race and too many people think that someone like George Santos is such an extreme fringe candidate, he's not electable. But the reality is, in today's climate, because the national issues are so prominent, he might actually be able to win just by avoiding discussing his own record," Zimmerman said.
In turn, Santos has argued that Zimmerman "would be a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Democrats' radical pro-criminal agenda." (Zimmerman, for his part, said he's "not afraid to take on the Biden administration" when he thinks its wrong.)
Santos told POLITICO earlier this year that Democrats will have a hard time casting him as a typical Republican: "I'm a free thinker," he said during an interview outside an Indian Independence Day event in Queens. "I'm Latino, I'm gay, I'm Jewish. I do what I want. I don't fit in the boxes that they want me to fit in."
A person who answered the number listed for Santos referred inquiries to the campaign's press office, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment or an interview.
The Democrat raised a total of nearly $2.7 million and spent almost $2.3 million between January and Oct. 19, according to campaign finance records. Santos, meanwhile, raised $2.7 million and spent almost $2.4 million during the same time period.
NY-04: Laura Gillen (D) v. Anthony D'Esposito (R)
POLITICO Forecast Rating: Leans D
Democrat Laura Gillen will face off against Republican Anthony D'Esposito in a race to replace retiring Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat first elected in 2014.
Gillen, an adjunct law professor at Hofstra University and former Hempstead supervisor, is favored over D'Esposito, a Hempstead Town Board member and retired New York City police detective, in the Democrat-leaning district. Biden held a 12-point advantage in NY-04 prior to redistricting - a lead which widened to nearly 15 points in the redrawn district.
Despite that, some political observers argue that the seat could be more competitive than it appears at first glance thanks to Long Island's tumultuous political climate - particularly given the outcome of last year's local elections.
And on Wednesday, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republicans' main super PAC, dropped $1.5 million against Gillen - the biggest outside investment in the race.
"It's clear that the Republicans feel they have a good shot at flipping the 4th District because they have a well-known local candidate, the organization is unified and feels that the issues that played so well last year are continuing to play well this year," Levy said.
Gillen, who lost her 2019 supervisor reelection bid, beat three other Democrats to win the August primary. D'Esposito ran unopposed.
Money race: Gillen had a campaign balance of $271,500 heading into the final weeks of the race after raising nearly $1.5 million and spending $1.2 million this year. D'Esposito entered the final stretch with cash-on-handof $112,000 after bringing in nearly $1.1 million and spending $956,000 this year.
POLITICO's Ally Mutnick, Anna Gronewold and Bill Mahoney contributed reporting.