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Democrats won big in New York, but what’s that mean for November?

Name ID, money helped former Rep. Tom Suozzi flip Santos’ seat back

Democrat Tom Suozzi poses with supporters Feb. 4 at the Polish National Home in Glen Cove, N.Y., ahead of his victory in a special election Tuesday that flipped New York’s 3rd District.
Democrat Tom Suozzi poses with supporters Feb. 4 at the Polish National Home in Glen Cove, N.Y., ahead of his victory in a special election Tuesday that flipped New York’s 3rd District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democrat Tom Suozzi’s win Tuesday in a New York special election will shrink House Republicans’ already narrow majority as both parties are set for a competitive election year. 

Suozzi led Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip in the 3rd District race to replace expelled GOP Rep. George Santos by 8 percentage points — a bigger margin that pre-election polls predicted — with 93 percent of the votes counted Wednesday morning. But while special elections can garner lots of attention, they typically get lower turnout than regular elections. Turnout Tuesday, for example, was roughly two-thirds of what it was in the 3rd District in the 2022 midterms. 

Nevertheless, Democrats were gleeful, and touted the win as one less seat they’ll need to flip in November to win back the House. The win also came in an area that had been trending toward Republicans in recent elections. But the results may not offer a clear prediction for how November will go. 

“It’s really stabbing in the dark to say that this says anything about the upcoming presidential elections,” said Grant Reeher, a political science professor and director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University. 

Suozzi is set to be sworn in on Feb. 28. Here are several takeaways from his win. 

Democrats outspent GOP on a known candidate

Suozzi began the campaign with high name ID after representing the district from 2017 until 2023. He previously served as mayor of Glen Cove and as Nassau County executive, and his father and uncle both previously served as mayor. 

Republicans tapped Pilip, a relative newcomer who serves as a Nassau County legislator. The National Republican Congressional Committee said in a memo Wednesday that internal polling from December had Suozzi at 81 percent name ID while Pilip’s was at 22 percent. 

Democrats also significantly outspent Republicans. Outside groups reported spending $21.1 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings through Tuesday. Of that, $13.1 million was spent to support Suozzi or oppose Pilip, while the other $8 million was meant to benefit Pilip. 

Republicans successes in the 2022 midterms in New York helped them take control of the House, in part after tying Democratic candidates to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was then deeply unpopular, Reeher said. But Suozzi had given up his seat to run against Hochul for governor that year and challenged her from the right, which could have underscored to voters that he was a more moderate Democrat, he said. 

Still, Democrats on Wednesday said the win followed a game plan to win back the seat that had previously been long held by Democrats. House Majority PAC, a super PAC with ties to House Democratic leadership, touted “record investments in the district” in its own memo Wednesday, as well as its move to be the first outside group to begin advertising in late December.

Immigration messaging wars to continue 

Republicans pushed immigration to the center of the campaign, which was ending just as a bipartisan border agreement was unveiled in the Senate, then lost Republican support and was jettisoned from a national security measure the Senate passed this week. 

“The wall-to-wall coverage of the migrant crisis in New York forced Suozzi to compete on our turf,” the NRCC said in its Wednesday memo. 

In the final weeks of the campaign, Suozzi criticized Republicans for opposing a bipartisan border security deal, a tactic HMP said other candidates should copy.

“It is imperative for Democrats to take the fight to Republicans and hammer them on their failure to support the Senate’s bipartisan border security bill,” HMP said in its memo. 

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who helped craft the border control package, agreed in a memo Wednesday. 

“He flipped the script on his Republican opponent, successfully painting her as unserious about border security because of her opposition to the bipartisan border bill, and turned what could have been a devastating political liability into an advantage,” Murphy wrote. 

Republicans argued that without Suozzi’s built-in advantages in the district that other candidates won’t have, immigration will remain a strong issue for them in other races this year. 

Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters on Wednesday that she expected abortion, which Suozzi also campaigned on, to continue to be an important messaging point for Democrats. After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in 2022, abortion was a dominant issue in other special elections, as well as in the midterms later that year.

Run it back in November?

The special election only covers the remainder of Santos’ term, and Suozzi and Pilip could face off again in November if they secure their parties’ nominations in a June 25 primary. Suozzi will now have the benefit of incumbency, including support from the Democratic Party, while Pilip could face a steeper climb. Several Republicans had launched campaigns for the general election before Santos’ expulsion and were raising money they could use to seek the nomination over the next few months.

Pilip also drew GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s ire after Tuesday’s election. In a Truth Social post, he called her a “very foolish woman,” and called for a “real candidate in the district for November.” 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales shifted the rating for the November race from Toss-up to Lean Democratic after Suozzi’s win.

“With an incumbent running for reelection in a district that President Biden could win again, Democrats have the initial advantage in the regular race,” Gonzales said in an email. “The district could also get better for Suozzi through redistricting.”

The state’s Independent Redistricting Commission is set to meet Thursday and the maps are expected to shift ahead of this year’s elections. 

Battle for the House still competitive 

Both parties still see a path to the House majority next year. The NRCC highlighted 24 seats currently held by Democrats that were more favorable to Republicans in 2022 than New York’s 3rd District, including open seats in Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.

“Mazi Pilip is a fighter with a bright future within the Republican Party. This was an uphill battle. Joe Biden won this district by 8 points, Democrats outspent Republicans two-to-one, and our Democrat opponent spent decades representing these New Yorkers — yet it was still a dogfight,” NRCC Chairman Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said in a statement. “Republicans still have multiple pathways to grow our majority in November.”

DelBene predicted that issues would resonate differently in different districts. She said she expected abortion would remain a top issue for Democrats, a topic that Republicans have acknowledged they need to better communicate on. 

“The individual specific issues and what’s happening in individual districts are very very important and we know each of our races is unique. Our candidates are going to approach their campaigns differently and those are also things that we need to keep in mind,” she told reporters Wednesday. “There are going to be some things that are important from this election but there are also going to be unique differences in different districts across the country.“

Candidates in November will also have to contend with their party’s presidential nominees. Biden continues to have high disapproval ratings nationally, and in the 3rd District, where an Emerson College poll released last week showed him with 38 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval. Despite that, Suozzi took 54 percent of the vote to Pilip’s 46 percent in unofficial returns. 

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