Kathleen Rice, who won a double-digit victory in November as Nassau County district attorney, said Wednesday night she will be the Democratic candidate to succeed retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy.
In a statement, Rice signaled she will seek to follow McCarthy's path on several issues. McCarthy, 70, has been one of the country's most visible gun control advocates; she was first elected after her husband was killed and son wounded in the 1993 Log Island Rail Road massacre.
"I've spent my career combating gun violence and advocating for families and communities in need," Rice said.
McCarthy, who has been treated for lung cancer and isn't seeking a 10th term, endorsed Rice in a separate statement Wednesday night. "Announcing my retirement was a difficult decision, but Kathleen's candidacy gives me hope for my legacy, for the future of Long Island and for the future of our nation," she said.
With no incumbent, the race for the seat in a suburban district just east of New York City could be one to watch, according to political observers.
Ian Prior, northeast spokesman for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, called the district "a likely pickup opportunity for a strong Republican candidate."
No Republican candidate has yet to announce their candidacy, but prospects include Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and county legislator Francis Becker, who has twice lost to McCarthy. Other possible Democrats include Malverne Mayor Patricia McDonald and county legislators Kevan Abrahams and David Denenberg.
Others say Rice's strong name recognition - she ran and lost a primary for state attorney general in 2010 - could give some challengers pause. Last year, she was the only countywide Democrat to win re-election, turning back a challenger by nearly 19 percentage points.
"This is a quintessential swing suburban district, but Rice has won by big numbers in both Democratic and Republican areas," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
"She would be hard to pick off," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. "She covers both the right and left. As a district attorney, conservatives should like her law enforcement background and she's a pro-choice woman, so she wins on both counts."
Rice, who turns 49 on Feb. 15, also serves as co-chair of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission, which is investigating public corruption by public officials.
She has attracted national headlines on several occasions, including an appearance on "60 Minutes" after her office uncovered a cheating scandal at a Long Island high school in 2011. Twenty students were accused of paying as much as $3,500 each to have someone else take the SAT college-entrance test for them.
She has crusaded against drunken driving, winning rare murder convictions in two high-profile DWI-related fatalities. "There are times when this crime is murder, and we have to be willing to call it that when we know it will save lives," Rice has said.
Her office also reviewed the 1980s prosecution of convicted child molester Jesse Friedman, whose story was portrayed in a 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary. The DA's recent probe concluded that police and prosecutors had sufficient evidence to pursue sex-abuse charges against the suburban New York man and his father. Both pleaded guilty in 1988 to abusing 13 children in their Great Neck home.
Friedman, now 44, has for more than a decade maintained his innocence, saying he was coerced into a guilty plea; he is continuing to challenge Rice's ruling. His father committed suicide in prison.
Rice also negotiated an agreement with Wal-Mart to improve store security during so-called "Black Friday" sales following the death of a Wal-Mart employee during a customer stampede in November 2008.