It may seem surprising that the job of taking back the House - Democrats need 25 seats to do so - has fallen not to a bloodthirsty partisan, but to the easygoing Mr. Israel: an unassuming centrist from Long Island who once voted with President George W. Bush nearly half of the time and has barely made a mark after a decade in Congress.
"Unassuming"? Perhaps. "Centrist"? No way. The American Conservative Union  awarded Israel's lifetime voting record (he's a 10-year veteran of Congress) a mere 11 points out of 100, including 0 out of 100 the last two years. Those numbers situate Rep. Israel well left of center.
After recruiting praise from minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Halbfinger suggests Israel is being underestimated, while conveniently injecting unmediated Democratic talking points into the Times.
Indeed, Mr. Israel, who says he likes low expectations, isn't as unlikely a fit for the job as his benign first impression might suggest.
In a strategy session, he picks over a series of Republican budget cuts, then coaches his staff to turn those around as weapons. "Do this inside out," he says. "Find the most vulnerable Republicans, match it up with this chart, and come up with another matrix to figure out what's the most effective hit on each of them."
He points to 14 Republican incumbents in districts that were carried by John Kerry in 2004, each of whom just voted to cut money for family planning. "This stuff is potent," he says. "You should ask them: 'How many jobs does eliminating family planning create?' Right?"
He came into his own on the Huntington town council, showing flashes of major league shrewdness. Elected in 1993, he bromanced the Republican supervisor, who switched parties. He persuaded colleagues to vote for pay raises while he took the politically safer position of opposing them, according to Joe DeVincent, then a town official. He bowed to local resistance to affordable housing. But he delivered the decisive vote for a hiring center for immigrant day laborers over vehement opposition.
In contrast, Halbfinger's February 23 profile  of New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, was not nearly as kind, referring to Christie as "pugnacious and boastful," and suggesting "the state's education system" was "still reeling from Mr. Christie's cuts."