Stretching nearly 120 miles, Long Island packs in gated homes and estates alongside pockets of poverty. Beaches, bays, and — yes — plenty of traffic backups.

“Instead of a suburb, it’s almost like a mini-city,” Jerrianne, a hostess at a Smithtown diner, said.

Ahead of November, Long Island’s diverse communities are again in the spotlight. The political winds on the island could potentially determine control of the U.S. House. 

What You Need To Know

  • What happens on Long Island in November could help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives

  • In 2022 midterms, when Democrats held on in many suburbs nationally, Republicans made inroads on Long Island. Republicans also saw gains on the island in 2021 and 2023

  • Democrat Tom Suozzi's special election win in February offered some hope to Democrats and a potential blueprint for victory, but local Republican leaders are acting confident as well, pointing to their coordinated political operations in Suffolk and Nassau counties
  • Ultimately, the presidential race, which will top the November ballot, could the seal fate of candidates further down the ballot on Long Island

In 2020, Long Island Democrats fought Republicans to a draw, winning the two congressional districts based in Nassau County and losing the two seats rooted in Suffolk County. 

Two years later, when Democrats held on in many suburbs nationally during the 2022 midterms, Long Island offered a different story. Republicans on the island painted all four districts red. 

It still sparks frustration among longtime local Democrats.

“It shocked me and upset me. I don’t think the Democrats were prepared for that at all,” said Susan of East Meadow, New York.

(Spectrum News NY1)

What’s behind the GOP gains?

Republicans in part credit Lee Zeldin — at the time, a congressman in Suffolk County — with helping to fuel GOP turnout through his 2022 run for governor. 

Lawrence Levy, the head of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said Democrats also faced a perfect storm — fed by screaming headlines about crime in New York City and progressive Democrats in Albany passing controversial criminal justice laws. 

“Because of the spike in crime during the pandemic, because of the economic problems that people were experiencing, New Yorkers were primed to be angry at somebody,” Levy said. “When the Democrats passed bail reform, and the Republicans figured out a way to message that as powerfully as they did, the problems for Democrats just multiplied.”

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, who also leads the Nassau County Democrats, said his party’s recent failures were not for a lack of trying or a ground game. 

“You can knock on doors and talk to voters. But if they think that you’re selling them manure, they’re just not buying it,” he said. 

Criss-crossing the island earlier this month, 2022 themes appeared to still resonate among conservative voters. And now there is another attention-grabbing story: the surge of migrants into New York. 

“I’m concerned that law and order is not being followed. I’m concerned that we have people roaming our cities, that we have no idea who they are,” said Elliot Duffy of East Meadow, New York.

(Spectrum News NY1)

Looking to November

According to Levy, historically, Long Island has been an early indicator of political trends in suburbs nationally. Whether what has happened on the island recently is merely an aberration or indeed a sign of coming attractions remains an open question.

Local Republicans also made gains in local races in 2021 and 2023, notably flipping the Suffolk County executive and district attorney offices. 

But Democrats broke the skid in February, when Tom Suozzi snagged the special election for New York’s Nassau County-centered 3rd Congressional District, replacing embattled ousted Republican George Santos. 

Suozzi sought to play offense instead of defense on immigration, attacking Republicans over inaction on Capitol Hill — a potential blueprint that Democrats replicate elsewhere. 

Jacobs told Spectrum News NY1 he is a bit more optimistic about this fall, arguing that the marquee presidential race means national issues like abortion rights may resonate locally in a way they did not two years ago. 

“This is a very different political environment. And the issues are very different. And I think that also the turnout is going to be different,” he said. 

Or as Plainview, New York, voter Paul Ruchames put it: “I’m not a great fan of Biden, but I think Trump is very dangerous for the country and for the world.”

However, GOP leaders are acting confident as well, pointing to their coordinated political operations in Suffolk and Nassau counties and their work to develop the GOP brand locally. 

“People are responding to the campaign operations, to the candidates, to this committee’s hard work on giving Republicans a chance,” Suffolk County GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia said. “They see what’s going on in Albany, in D.C. under one party rule and they are rejecting that, and we’re giving them the tools and candidates to reject those policies.”

Ultimately, though, it may be the top of the ticket that seals the fate of candidates further down the ballot, Levy said. 

Polls from earlier this year have shown Biden’s popularity in New York has sagged since 2020.

“If Joe Biden wins by five or six points in New York, like Gov. Hochul did in 2022, it will be another bloodbath in the suburban swing districts,” he said. “If Biden can stretch it back to 10, 12 points, then a number of these seats could flip back to the Democratic Party.”

This means New York could be the whole ball game when it comes to control of the U.S. House.