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Suozzi wins New York special election, replacing George Santos

Democrat Tom Suozzi won a hotly contested special election for Congress on Tuesday, the Associated Press projected, retaking a seat in suburban New York and offering his party some reassurance amid high anxiety about President Biden’s political vulnerabilities.

Suozzi beat Republican nominee Mazi Pilip to replace Republican George Santos, who was indicted on a charge of fraud and then expelled from Congress late last year amid revelations that he fabricated much of his life story. The race for New York’s 3rd District — long viewed as a dead heat — played out in a suburban part of Long Island that favored President Biden by eight points in 2020 but then swung toward Republicans, backing Santos by the same margin.

With 85 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday night, Suozzi led Pilip by about eight points.

National issues dominated the campaign, making Tuesday’s vote this year’s first high-profile test of the parties’ messages on abortion, the economy and, above all, immigration. Suozzi represented the area for six years previously and campaigned as a moderate who wanted to work across the aisle. But with New York City struggling to absorb more than 100,000 migrants arriving from the southern border, much of the campaign centered on what polling suggests is Democrats’ toughest issue.

Democrat Jim Prokopiak was also projected to win a Tuesday special election for a state House seat in Pennsylvania, building his party’s narrow edge in a chamber that until recently was deadlocked 101-101. He beat Candace Cabanas after tying her to Trump and what he called “extremists” in the GOP, echoing national Democrats’ 2024 message.

In New York, Suozzi’s victory capped a long list of Democratic wins in recent special elections, which have showcased the party’s ability to turn out its base and tap into anger at GOP-backed abortion restrictions since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Democrats spent millions of dollars attacking Pilip’s “pro-life” stance even though she said she would not support a national ban on abortion.

The victory also validated Suozzi’s decision to invest heavily in countering the GOP on immigration, suggesting that Democrats in tight races can benefit from talking tougher on the border and highlighting Republicans’ abrupt abandonment of a bipartisan deal on the matter negotiated in Congress. Biden, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and other Democrats have similarly sought to go on offense on immigration by criticizing the deal’s failure.

The border could loom especially large this year in New York, a state with several battleground House races that will give it an outsize role in the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Democratic leaders there have expressed deep frustration about the border situation, with New York City’s Democratic mayor, Eric Adams, at one point saying the influx of migrants will “destroy” the city.

Many voters — including Suozzi supporters — said Tuesday that they were concerned about the migrant situation in New York. But some suggested that the former congressman’s efforts to blunt Republican attacks had worked.

Maria Deluca said she had heard “a lot of negativity toward his stance on immigration” but decided she preferred moderation to Republicans’ hard line.

Suozzi, she said, would “protect us but also be fair to those who are seeking asylum.”

Offseason elections hinge more heavily on the most engaged voters, making them an imperfect bellwether for other races with higher expected turnout. Poor weather also appeared to be a factor in voter turnout Tuesday, adding another caveat to attempts to draw broader lessons for 2024. More registered Democrats than registered Republicans voted early, and the GOP typically leans more on a strong Election Day turnout.

Some spots on Long Island reported several inches of snow Tuesday, as both the Suozzi and Pilip campaigns organized free rides to the polls and urged their supporters to get out as conditions improved in the afternoon. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC that has funded many pro-Pilip ads, even hired private snowplow companies to help clear the roads. Voters at one polling site held each other’s hands and clung to the railings to avoid slipping outside.

Democrats outspent Republicans in the race, pouring about $14 million into TV advertising compared with $8 million from Republicans. The GOP ads overwhelmingly focused on immigration, blaming the border crisis on Democrats and prompting Suozzi to respond with his own spots noting that he once joined Republicans to vote in support of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Suozzi’s tone on immigration has sometimes echoed Republicans’: At a campaign event this past weekend, he said Pilip would help block a border solution in Congress, paving the way for “more migrants coming to New York — and on top of that, they’re gonna have access to AR-15s.”

Democrats sought to highlight other issues as well. “The NY-03 special election needs to be about abortion,” read a bold, underlined sentence in an internal Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee memo, which cited national Democrats’ polling on the effectiveness of targeting Pilip over that issue.

Biden’s campaign manager suggested in a statement Tuesday night that voters on Long Island had rejected “Trump’s extreme agenda,” while Trump attacked Pilip as a “foolish woman” who did not express sufficient support for him. The “Make America Great Again” movement will stay home “UNLESS IT IS TREATED WITH THE RESPECT THAT IT DESERVES,” Trump wrote.

Pilip made headlines when she said she would not support Trump if he were convicted of a crime, and she initially declined to tell reporters whom she voted for in 2020, eventually acknowledging days before the election that she voted for Trump.

Given the chance to pick their nominees — there was no traditional primary process — the Democratic and Republican parties turned to very different candidates. Suozzi is well-known in the 3rd District, which includes parts of Democratic-leaning Queens and Republican-leaning Nassau County. Pilip was elected to the Nassau County legislature in 2021 and has been more guarded on the trail, turning to many Republican surrogates to help make her case.

Born in Ethiopia, she immigrated to Israel as a child and served in its defense forces before coming to the United States, settling in Great Neck — a 3rd District town with a large Jewish community where shop windows are full of signs declaring solidarity with Israel. “She’s a fighter, obviously,” said Gerard Casey as he voted for Pilip on Tuesday.

But the fact that Pilip was a newcomer to politics also hurt her with some voters. Democrats compared her with Santos in the final stretch of the race, suggesting she was unvetted.

Social worker Tiffany Gotterbarn said that in addition to Pilip’s stance on abortion, she was wary of voting for another political newcomer after Santos. “This is the first I’ve heard of her,” she said of Pilip. “Same with Santos. Nobody vetted him.”

Ken Woods, a graphic artist who has voted for candidates from both parties and yearns for more bipartisan compromise, also felt that a former congressman would better replace Santos than a newcomer.

“After having George Santos in this district, I prefer to have somebody I at least know, if not wholly trust. … Suozzi is at least a known entity,” he said.

The outcome was heartening to Democrats who viewed Long Island as a bellwether and worried about a repeat of 2022, when Republicans campaigned successfully on fears about crime and backlash to bail reform.

“It’s a place that is responsive to the moment in very powerful ways,” said Gabby Seay, a spokesperson for Battleground New York, which knocked on more than 100,000 doors to promote Suozzi and is working to oust several other vulnerable Republican House members in the state. “It’s a place … that pays attention and that responds to the very real issues that they’re seeing on their doorstep every single day.”

Azi Paybarah contributed to this report.

correction

An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Joseph Gibbons. It was from another voter, Gerard Casey. The article has been corrected.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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