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LONG ISLAND, NY — This story was updated at 12:57 a.m.
Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin has declared victory after taking the lead by a wide margin in the race for New York's 1st Congressional District seat against challenger and Democrat Nancy Goroff.
With only three districts of 473 not yet reported, Zeldin had 176,317 votes to Goroff's 111,188, giving him 61 percent of the vote compared to Goroff's 39 percent.
And there are thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted.
The votes tallied Tuesday included all early votes and ballots cast on Election Day but did not include the roughly absentee ballots distributed in Suffolk County. Peter McGreevy, Southold Republican Committee Chair, told Patch that according to the BOE, as of November 2, absentee ballots received were comprised of 50,698 Democratic ballots, 27,051 Republican, 1,706 Conservative, 4,287 Independence, and 27,471 Blank.
Speaking to the press, a confident Zeldin thanked all who had worked tirelessly. "We've been talking about how this was going to be one of the most important elections in our lifetime. I asked you to close your eyes and think about election night and think ,'What kind of country do you want? Then, go out and fight for it.' We don't want to wake up the day after the election and think we should have fought a little harder, made more calls, knocked on more doors."
He thanked his team "for your heart, your passion, your principles, your fight." He also spoke of the need to support military and law enforcement.
And, Zeldin said: "What our country needs to do now is to come together when the election is over and work with each other. We are Americans first. We are not gathering here as Republicans first or Democrats first. We are Long Islanders, New Yorkers. We love our flag, our freedom...our law enforcement, our Constitution. It's about all of us coming together because we are one nation."
The ability to debate, he said, is a value that "we protect and fight for, one of the things that makes America the greatest nation in the history of the world. When the election is over we need to come together and try to find commonality of purpose."
There is a need to come together, family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, Zeldin said. "Let's bring our country and community back together."
Zeldin also said thanks to voters, he was in the lead by the largest margin, 22.5 points, than any race in the past.
He also said he was proud of other Long Island Republicans who were in the lead by wide margins, including Anthony Palumbo, running for a New York State Senate seat in the 1st District, and Jodi Giglio, in a race for the 2nd District New York State Assembly seat vacated by Palumbo.
“Congratulations to my opponent, Nancy Goroff, her volunteers, and other supporters for running a hard fought campaign," Zeldin said. “Finally, to the voters of Long Island I say 'thank you.' I am proud to have always called Long Island my home and it’s an honor to represent the greatest congressional district in America.”
Early Wednesday morning, Goroff’s campaign manager, Jacob Sarkozi, issued the following statement: "With tens of thousands of ballots left to be opened, we owe it to voters that every single one be counted."
Goroff told the media that she would not be making any statements on Election Night. But she posted a message on her Facebook page.
"Thank you for letting your voice be heard in this critically important election. I want you to know that I am so proud of what we have accomplished and I hope you are, too," Goroff said. "To all of the poll workers, election officials and especially all the volunteers who made today possible, I want to say 'thank you. You've done an incredible job."
On Long Island, GOP leaders reflected on the results: "I am glad that once again our voters have chosen the champions of the East End: Congressman Lee Zeldin and our local favorites, Anthony Palumbo and Jodi Giglio, to represent us from the floors of Congress to the halls of our state capitol," McGreevy said.
The race has been has been deeply heated and entrenched in the national spotlight, with all eyes focused on whether Zeldin, a longtime Trump supporter, will retain his seat.
Zeldin, 40, was born and raised in Shirley. He is running for his fourth term, with campaign platforms focused on his military service, support for law enforcement and veterans, a tough stance on immigration, fighting gang violence (including MS-13), growing jobs and the economy, and getting to the other side of the pandemic.
Goroff, 52, of Stony Brook, is a scientist and has spoken out for the need to look at the facts and focus on the need to address climate change, the fight for affordable health care for all, and gun safety.
The 1st Congressional District includes most of central and eastern Suffolk County, including the East End, Brookhaven Town and most of Smithtown. View the district map here.
Zeldin's tenure has been marked by speculation about his reported loyalty to President Donald Trump. Donald Trump Jr. was a guest at a Zeldin fundraiser and Zeldin has greeted the president as he landed on the East End for fundraising events. Zeldin also was included in an immigration forum Trump held on Long Island that focused on eradicating gang violence.
Proudly voted this morning with Diana, Mikayla and Arianna at Mastic Beach Fire House! Polls are open until 9pm! Make sure to get out and VOTE! pic.twitter.com/tJA92QMCoI
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) November 3, 2020
Zeldin, however, has said he is proud of his ability to reach consensus on both sides of the political aisle on issues including helicopter noise, Plum Island and getting personal protective equipment to Long Island during the pandemic.
Looking at campaign contributions, according to the most report by the Center for Responsive Politics, Zeldin has raised $7,490,828, spent $5,597,154 and has $1,918,246 on hand.
Goroff, the report indicates, has raised $5,857,735, spent, $5,434,291 and has $423,443 in her campaign coffers.
The race holds considerable weight. Although Democrats lead Republicans on Long Island, that's not the case in the 1st Congressional District, where the GOP still has a higher number of registered voters. With a total of 558,664 registered voters in the district, according to the New York State Board of Elections, there are 167,547 Republicans and 165,334 Democrats, with 11,593 registered members of the Conservative Party, 1,915 members of the Working Families Party, 1,035 members of the Green Party, 951 of the Libertarian Party, 22,615 of the Independence Party and 142,236 blanks.
Both candidates have sparred at debates over campaign ads.
Speaking to Patch, Lance Trover, a representative for Zeldin's campaign, described the positive momentum going into the final hours.
"We are confident given his record of delivering for Long Island families that Congressman Zeldin will be re-elected," Trover said. "Congressman Zeldin is ranked the 12th most bipartisan Congressman in America by Georgetown University and the Lugar Center, because he is willing to work with anyone to find common ground however possible. Whether it's coronavirus response resources, the $2 billion Election Ion Collider headed now to Brookhaven National Laboratory, combating MS-13, and much more, Congressman Zeldin's work with the administration has helped him deliver for his congressional district, just like how Congressman Zeldin's work with Democrats helped him get the Great American Outdoors Act over the finish line, full funding for the National Estuary Program and SeaGrant, permanent funding for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, and many other important priorities."
Jesse Garcia, chair of the Suffolk County Republican Party, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Rich Shaffer, Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman, also shared his thoughts with Patch: "All indications show the race between Nancy Goroff and Lee Zeldin will be incredibly close. Long Island families were hit hard by the pandemic and were let down by President Trump and his number one defender Lee Zeldin," he said. "Nancy's background as a scientist and leader in her community is exactly what voters are looking for — a representative who will follow science and facts to solve our complex local and national problems."
Shaffer added: "We're seeing a ton of enthusiasm from early and absentee voters with more than half of the votes so far being Democratic registrants."
Hannah Jeffrey, representative for the Goroff campaign, told Patch: "It's clear that Nancy's goals of bringing back facts to governing and following science to make important policy decisions resonate with Long Islanders more than what Lee Zeldin is offering. Rep. Zeldin has chosen to defend President Trump's reckless handling of the pandemic, and every other terrible decision and statement that the president has made, rather than working to solve problems for the people of this district."
To read Goroff's candidate interview with Patch, click here.
For Zeldin's candidate interview, click here.