- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - He won his first election for Congress in 1970 by taking on an iconic Harlem politician and eking out a close victory. Now U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel is the Harlem icon, and he’s hoping his opponents don’t do the same thing to him.

Rangel, 84, is running for his 23rd term in the House of Representatives and is facing what could be his tightest race, the Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional District. His main opponent Tuesday is state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is seeking to become the first Dominican-born member of Congress. In such a heavily Democratic city, the primary winner is widely expected to win the general election in November.

The race is the most high-profile of the congressional primaries being voted on around the state on Tuesday. The men spent Monday in last-minute campaigning and interviews. Rangel appeared on morning television show “Good Day New York” comparing himself to a prizewinning horse, saying, “If you had an old horse that kept winning races and bringing back the grand prize, why would you change it for someone who doesn’t even know where the track is?”

Campaigning in northern Manhattan, Espaillat greeted parents and passers-by Monday afternoon outside an elementary school in his base of the heavily Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights. He said he was “very confident” in his prospects, and “we’re going to win comfortably.”

Rangel beat Espaillat by about 1,000 votes two years ago in a race that included disputed election results and a lawsuit. If anything, this year’s campaign has been even nastier, including charges of racial politics in a redrawn district covering northern Manhattan and the Bronx that was historically black but has become majority Hispanic.

At one of the primary debates, Rangel said Espaillat “wants to be the Jackie Robinson of the Dominicans in the Congress,” adding that Espaillat should tell voters “just what the heck has he done besides saying he’s a Dominican?” He also pointed out a flier that Espaillat was responsible for in 2012, which accused another Dominican official of “betraying his community” for his support of Rangel.

The comments drew a sharp rebuke from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a former Rangel campaign manager who pointedly made no endorsements in this race.

Rangel has insisted he’s the best person for the job because of his decades of experience in Washington. But Espaillat has often pointed to what’s happened to Rangel in recent years, including a 2010 ethics scandal in which he was found guilty of 11 House charges. That forced him to relinquish his post as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel, who entered Congress in 1970 after beating longtime politician Adam Clayton Powell Jr., is best known for a low-income tax credit that fueled the nation’s largest affordable housing program and for creating an empowerment zone that changed the face of Harlem.

A Siena poll released last week showed Rangel leading Espaillat by 13 percentage points with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The poll surveyed 708 likely primary voters June 14-18.

In the other races, two Republicans are facing off in the 1st District, which covers Long Island’s Suffolk County. George Demos and Lee Zeldin are vying for the chance to take on Democrat incumbent Tim Bishop in the November general election.

There are two primaries in the 4th District covering parts of Nassau County, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy is retiring. The Democratic primary has District Attorney Kathleen Rice facing county legislator Kevan Abrahams, while in the Republican primary, attorney Frank Scaturro is facing former county legislator Bruce Blakeman.

In upstate New York, a key race involves two Republicans facing off in the 21st District, which sprawls from Lake Ontario near Watertown across to the Vermont border and south through the Adirondacks to the outskirts of Saratoga Springs. Matt Doheny and Elise Stefanik are seeking the ballot spot in what was traditionally a Republican district where Democrat incumbent Bill Owens chose not to run. The winner will face Democrat Aaron Wolf.

Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna is facing a challenge from tea party-backed Claudia Tenney, a member of the state Assembly, in western New York’s 22nd District which runs from Binghamton to beyond Oneida. The winner won’t have a Democratic challenger.

And in the Hudson Valley’s 18th Congressional District primary, Republican Nan Hayworth and Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney are trying to win the Independence Party line. Maloney took the seat from Hayworth in 2012.

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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