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Suozzi trying to reverse GOP trend on New York’s Long Island

Special election to replace Santos a bellwether for November House battle

Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, Democratic candidate in New York’s 3rd District special election, speaks at a campaign rally at the Polish National Home in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Sunday.
Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, Democratic candidate in New York’s 3rd District special election, speaks at a campaign rally at the Polish National Home in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Sunday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

GLEN COVE, N.Y. — When Judy Wiesel was part of the Greenvale Civic Association years ago, Tom Suozzi, then a local official, came to talk to the group about concerns they had about widening a road in the Long Island town.

“He came down to our civic association and explained what was happening and how the issues that we were worried about were going to be alleviated,” Wiesel, who now lives in Roslyn, said at a Suozzi campaign event on Sunday afternoon.

Voters like Wiesel, who considers herself a moderate Democrat and “a big Suozzi supporter,” will be key as Suozzi, who previously served as a mayor here and a Nassau County executive before winning a seat in Congress, tries for a comeback in the Feb. 13 special election to replace the expelled Republican George Santos. 

Suozzi gave up his 3rd District seat in 2022 for an ill-fated run for governor, and this year he is relying on voters he says already know him to turn out in an area that has been trending Republican in recent years.

“They know me. They trust me,” he said in an interview. “I’ve given them a vision of how we can make government work for us, instead of just attacking it.” 

Running against Suozzi is Mazi Melesa Pilip, a Nassau County legislator and newcomer to federal politics selected by New York Republicans to run in the special election. An Ethiopian-born refugee who immigrated to the United States from Israel, Pilip has served on the County Legislature since 2021. A registered Democrat, Pilip has said she would change her party affiliation if elected and told CNN, “The Democratic Party left me and many others.”

Two weekends before the election, and as early voting kicked off, Suozzi was crisscrossing the district holding rallies and appeared with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a fellow New Yorker. Pilip’s campaign didn’t announce any public events, but she hosted Speaker Mike Johnson on Friday and appeared with the New York State Young Republicans, according to a social media post

It’s a race that both sides are expecting to be close, and one that comes months before New York voters typically head to the polls.

GOP looking for momentum

If Republicans win, it will give them momentum heading into a competitive election cycle in which they hope to grow their ranks. It will also underscore that messaging on immigration and the border, which has been a focal point in the campaign, is resonating with voters in the Long Island suburbs, where there are three districts, including this one that Republicans won in 2022 after voters backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020.

Democrats, on the other hand, are all in on trying to win back six New York House seats, including the 3rd District, in their campaign to win back control of the House. Replacing Santos with Suozzi next week would further trim the GOP’s majority in the House and cut to four the net number of seats Democrats need to flip to take the majority in the next Congress. 

Rep. Grace Meng, who represents the neighboring 6th District and spoke at a “Women for Suozzi” event on Saturday, said afterward that Democratic grassroots organizations, the state party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were all working together to target voters ahead of the election. 

Meng said she didn’t think a win next week was “necessary” for Democrats to win back control of the House or to retain control of the White House, “but I think it would be a great morale booster.”

But Long Island has been difficult ground for Democrats since 2021. Republicans control the area’s four House seats and won the county executive race in November in nearby Suffolk County. 

Pendulum swing

“Not only are we winning, but we’re winning in places that have historically been Democrat. That momentum is continuing. The pendulum is continuing to swing,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican who represents the 4th District and won a seat that Biden would have won by 16 points in 2020, said in an interview last week. “2024 is very different than 2020 and Joe Biden is a very different person than he was four years ago, so I think everything is on our side.”

The district’s Republican trend was something Suozzi raised while campaigning, saying that the Nassau County Republican “machine” is the strongest it’s been in 15 years.

“We’ve lost everything on Long Island for the past three years, every single race. And I’ve tried to understand what’s going on with people, what are they feeling?” he said in Port Washington on Saturday. “Why is it that they’re so angry and upset? And people in this room and my family and my friends and the other constituents of my district are worried about our country.”

Immigration has been the top issue in the race, with ads from the campaigns and outside groups focusing on the border crisis as migrants have been flown into New York. Pilip’s campaign has run several ads tying Suozzi to the Biden administration’s border policies, and he in turn has run ads on the issue.

Immigration ads

House Majority PAC, a super PAC with ties to Democratic leadership, on Monday released three new ads that focus on abortion, immigration and tying Pilip to Santos, who was expelled from the House in December after his indictment for numerous charges, including wire fraud, charging donors’ credit cards without permission and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to the GOP leadership, has also run ads on immigration. 

A WPIX/Emerson College poll from mid-January found that immigration was the top issue for 26 percent of voters, followed by the economy for 22 percent. Voters who said immigration was their top issue were supporting Pilip 68 percent to 17 percent, while voters who said the economy was most top of mind supported Suozzi 50 percent to 42 percent. 

But even though immigration tended to be a more favorable issue for Republicans, Suozzi has been focused on it too. He said he wasn’t surprised by how prominent a role the issue was playing in the campaign and criticized conservatives for their opposition to a bipartisan border package proposed by a group of senators on Sunday night, which he said he would support.

Pilip said in a statement Monday she opposes that package, and she has said she preferred a border bill that House Republicans passed last year known as HR 2.

Outside groups like super PACs and the Republican and Democratic House campaign arms have spent a total of more than $12 million on independent expenditures. Suozzi had $2.2 million on hand for the final three weeks of the campaign as of Jan. 24, according to an FEC filing from last week. 

The two are set to debate on Thursday. While the winner will likely receive party support ahead of an election for a full term in November, it’s not clear if the district’s boundaries will shift before then. The state’s top court ordered that a new map be drawn in December, which Democrats could take as an opportunity to draw lines more favorable to the party. 

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