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Avlon ups his "ground game' against Goroff

Thomas Maier
Newsday - The Point

When John Avlon entered the 1st Congressional District primary race earlier this year, he was viewed by many as a creature of television, rather than a stalwart of local Democratic politics.

Avlon’s main opponent in the June 25 Democratic primary, Nancy Goroff, had previously gained the party’s nomination in 2020. And though she lost that race, Goroff has counted on plenty of support in the community surrounding Stony Brook University, where she was once a professor, to provide the margin of victory she needs this time to beat Avlon and face GOP incumbent Rep. Nicholas LaLota in the fall.

Gradually, though, Avlon, a former CNN television commentator, has pieced together significant support among local Democrats, including the majority of Suffolk’s Democratic town committees in the 1st District. With the most recent addition of Huntington’s Democratic committee, Avlon has now secured the endorsement of five of out the eight town committees.

“We’re backing John because he’s the best candidate to take this seat back and help create a Democratic majority,” said Huntington Town committee vice chair Jill Kaufman in a statement released through the Avlon camp.

State Democratic chair Jay Jacobs has indicated that he supports Avlon as the best candidate to beat LaLota in the fall. But perhaps the biggest figure in Suffolk Democratic politics — county chair Rich Schaffer, who is also Babylon Town supervisor — is staying neutral in this hotly contested primary race.

“The reason I stay out [of any endorsement] is so I can bring us together as a party afterwards” for the November election against LaLota, Schaffer told The Point. He said nothing would sway his decision to remain neutral, and he said he had privately told both candidates.

While some Democrats feel a contested primary between Avlon and Goroff would hurt the party in the fall, others say the attention surrounding the race — especially if political newcomer Avlon wins — could help defeat LaLota.

Maggie Touchton, Goroff’s campaign manager, said Schaffer’s decision to stay neutral “is probably for the best.” She expressed confidence that Goroff would prevail in this primary, just as she did in 2020 when she won that Democratic nomination with 36% of the vote against three other candidates.

Both Avlon and Goroff have shown impressive fund-raising abilities so far, and may tap into their own private funds if needed, said insiders. But they added that the key to this race will be the “ground game” both candidates employ with volunteers and staffers in getting Democrats to the polls.

Which is why Avlon’s securing the majority of town committee endorsements is so significant, said his spokesman Eric Koch. Along with Huntington, the other committees for Avlon are located on the East End. Only Riverhead, Smithtown and Brookhaven, which is where Goroff has her base, have not taken a position so far.