Editor’s note: Townhall’s Deputy News Editor Daniel Doherty recently spoke with New York State Senator and U.S. congressional candidate Lee Zeldin about the Democrats’ recent efforts to brand him as a coward. Zeldin is a veteran of the Iraq War and is running for the Republican nomination in New York’s 1st Congressional District. The transcript that follows has been edited for clarity.
DD: Sen. Zeldin, thanks for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon. It seems as though things having taken a turn for the worse in your campaign. Two days ago the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee came out and essentially accused you of cowardice for not being forthright about where you stand on certain issues. As an Iraq War veteran, did you take offense to this? And if so, do you think the organization should apologize?
LZ: I have spent my entire adult life in the military. It’s been an honor to serve. Around our dog tags we wear the seven Army values. And the seventh Army value is personal courage. My time in the military has been one surrounded by great Americans I have so much respect for. I don’t take too kindly to being called a coward at this stage in my life -- after the service that I’ve had. We can have a debate on issues but resorting to desperate name calling before that debate even starts is unacceptable.
DD: Why do you think the Democrats are resorting to such low-blow, ad hominem attacks so early in the campaign season?
LZ: They clearly know that they have no way of holding onto this seat without attacking me on one of my strongest suits: my character. The sense of honor and selfless service I’ve dedicated my life to. So they’re trying to go right for the jugular and they’re basically throwing a Hail Mary in the first quarter. Last week they polled the race. I don’t know what their results came back with. But I’m wondering: is it a coincidence that just a few days later they go on an attack like this?
DD: One of the things Democrats accuse you of is not taking a stance on the Paul Ryan budget plan. Do you support it, or would you have supported it if you were a member of Congress when it came up for a vote?
LZ: As soon as they asked me this question the first time I challenged them right back. If they want to have a debate with regards to what would be the best way to balance our budget this congressman [Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY)] needs to come to the table with the proposal that he supports. Then we can talk about what’s good, and what’s not good, about both Paul Ryan’s budget and whatever budget it is that he is in favor of. It’s obvious the Democrats are doing this just because they want to deflect and spin. I’m not going to play those games. I am already right now prepared for a debate with this congressman regarding what is the best way to balance our budget. Every single time he’s up for re-election he makes the campaign about anything other than him. It’s never about his record; it’s never about his vision. It’s not about what he wants to see our budget look like next year.
DD: Democrats have already gone negative as we’ve discussed. Will you resort to these same campaign tactics? If not, what is it that your campaign stands for -- and what issues are you running on?
LZ: Not only would I never resort to the tactics we’ve seen in the last couple of days; I would challenge them to make this a campaign about issues and substance. And to come to the table with ideas. With regards to Obamacare I believe we should repeal it. The incumbent is an ardent supporter. He believes it’s a good law. Last time we checked he still had it on his website: you can keep your doctor, you can keep your policy. We should talk about foreign policy and the need to be consistent in the manner in which we apply our foreign policy. We also need to talk about our economy in ways in which we can have a budget that is moving in the right direction towards reducing the deficit and having a balanced budget. Why should the federal government get a free pass on that? I’m looking forward to a debate on Common Core, too. The incumbent congressman helped get New York state’s application through the federal government. I believe in higher standards but I don’t believe Common Core is the answer.
DD: Is there anything else you wanted to address or think our readers might like to know about your campaign?
LZ: We’re in a Republican primary here on Tuesday, June 24th and our opponent, between him and his Super PACs supporting him, are going to spend over 3 million dollars. And almost every single dollar is coming from California Democrats. Why is it that out of a total of $2.25 million our primary opponent has raised, $2.15 million is coming from [out-of-state progressives]? It’s very bizarre the way the Democrats are conspiring to try and hold onto this seat. We’re seeing Democrats funding a Republican primary against us. There are more questions than answers as far as why that’s happening.