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Race to replace Santos tests messages both parties could use this fall

Suozzi pushes abortion rights as Pilip focuses on immigration

Signs outside city hall in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Feb. 4 point to where people could cast early ballots in the special 3rd District race between Democratic former Rep. Tom Suozzi and Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip.
Signs outside city hall in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Feb. 4 point to where people could cast early ballots in the special 3rd District race between Democratic former Rep. Tom Suozzi and Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Tuesday’s special election in the 3rd District brought an early election year focus to New York, where the House majority could be won or lost in November. 

The race to replace expelled Rep. George Santos, who faces 23 federal criminal charges, has drawn millions of dollars in outside spending and a trial run for issues both parties may try to focus on in swing districts nationwide this year. 

The special election, in a battleground district that will also be competitive in November, is expected to be close by both parties, which have been working to ensure voters know about the election and turn out. One wrinkle in turnout plans is a storm forecast to bring 5 to 10 inches of snow on Tuesday to the district, which spans parts of Queens in New York City and Nassau County on Long Island. 

Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, is seeking a comeback to Congress after giving up his seat to run unsuccessfully for governor in 2022. The former three-term House member is campaigning on his bipartisan credentials and focusing on issues meant to appeal to both the Democratic base, like abortion rights, and voters who have followed the region’s trend toward Republicans, like immigration. 

“Suozzi you know. I’ve been around for a long time,” he said at a campaign stop earlier this month in Port Washington. “There are good people on the other side of the aisle that we disagree with on a lot of stuff, but we can sit down and talk about it. I’m a bipartisan person.”

His opponent, Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip, is a Nassau County legislator. An Ethiopian-born Israeli immigrant, Pilip is a relative newcomer who has had to introduce herself to voters and has done so alongside other area Republicans. She has run a campaign focused on immigration, a strong issue for Republicans, and sought to tie Suozzi to more progressive Democrats, like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Pilip hasn’t been as visible on the campaign trail. The second-to-last weekend ahead of the special election, when early voting began, she held no public events. The previous weekend, a contingent of New York Republicans rallied on her behalf with House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, of Minnesota, while she observed Shabbat. 

Republican House candidate Mazi Melesa Pilip, center, stands with Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, left, and former Rep. Peter King after voting early in the 3rd District special election in Massapequa, N.Y., on Friday. (Adam Gray/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

“This election is so important and the reason so much money was invested on this election was it’s about the majority, it’s about saving our country,” Pilip said during a Fox News appearance on Monday. “The migrant crisis, the one I just told you, it’s a big issue for the 3rd Congressional District.” 

Several New York battlegrounds

New York is a focal point of the House battleground this year, with seven districts that are set to have competitive races, although the map could still change through redistricting. The Republicans facing reelection in districts that President Joe Biden would have won four years ago are Reps. Nick LaLota, Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams. Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan also faces a competitive race in the the 18th District.

Democrats have criticized Pilip for her lack of public appearances, including only debating Suozzi once last week. Democrats have also sought to question what voters really know about Pilip and thereby tie her to Santos, a Republican who flipped the district in 2022 but quickly faced a barrage of scrutiny about aspects of his background that he made up, culminating in his indictment and expulsion from the House in December. Pilip said Monday on Fox News that comparing her to Santos was “disrespectful.” 

If Suozzi wins on Tuesday, Democrats will cut House Republicans’ already slim majority by one vote and cut the net number of races they need to win in November to take control of the House to four. 

But Republicans are hoping that their momentum on Long Island will help them to hold the seat, which Santos won by 8 points. Biden would have won the seat by 8 points when he was last on the ballot two years before then in 2020. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as a Toss-up. 

An Emerson College poll of “very likely voters” released last week found Suozzi led Pilip 52 percent to 48 percent when voters who were leaning toward a candidate were added to those who were already behind someone. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. 

The election comes days before the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission is set to meet to vote on a new congressional map that could put incumbents on different terrain in November. The commission’s plan would then be sent to the state legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, to consider.

Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, the Democrat seeking an open seat in New York’s 3rd District, talks with a guest during a rally at the Polish National Home in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Feb. 4. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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