Tom Suozzi’s victory in special election to replace George Santos in Congress gives new hope to Democrats

The candidate for New York’s 3rd electoral district defeated Mazi Pilip, a Trump supporter, making the Republicans’ control of the House even narrower

Tom Suozzi’s victory
Democratic candidate for New York's 3rd congressional district, Tom Suozzi, in Westbury (New York).EDUARDO MUNOZ (REUTERS)

Democrat Tom Suozzi won a special election for a U.S. House seat in New York on Tuesday, defeating Republican Mazi Pilip to take the seat that was left vacant when George Santos, also a Republican, was expelled from Congress. The victory narrows an already-thin margin held by Republicans in the House, and could provide clues about suburban voter sentiment heading into the 2024 election campaign nationwide.

On Tuesday night, Democrats had been hoping for a decisive victory in the special election held in New York’s 3rd electoral district, which the Republican George Santos represented until he was expelled from Congress in December after being indicted on 23 counts. Federal prosecutors accused him of duping donors, stealing from his campaign, fraud, identity theft and lying to Congress. In other circumstances, a special vote to replace a representative who has lost his job — even one like the disgraced Santos, with his trail of hoaxes and fabrications — would not have aroused much interest. But in an election year, and with a very tense balance of forces in Congress (House Republicans will only have a six-seat advantage when Suozzi takes the oath of office), the New York race has been followed with great expectation, with live media coverage of the vote count.

A heavy snow storm, the most intense in almost two years, reduced turnout at the polls. Going into the vote both candidates were practically tied in voting intention. In fact, the battle was so tough that both candidates offered their voters paid transportation to the voting centers. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the main super PAC of the House Republicans, even hired private snow plows to clear the entrances. Not counting the snowplow bill, the group has spent $5 million on the race, a sign of Washington Republicans’ determination to retain that seat.

Suozzi positioned himself during the campaign as a moderate negotiator, while Mazi Pilip, a veteran of the Israeli Army who defends Trump’s theory about the 2020 election being stolen, tried to link his rival with President Joe Biden, who is going through low times. A Democratic defeat would have set off alarm bells in a party already affected by the president’s low approval numbers and with open fronts such as immigration, which is becoming the main issue of the November campaign. A Republican victory would have consolidated the party’s edge in the lower house. It was the four seats won by the Republicans in New York in the midterm elections that gave their party control of the chamber.

The seat at stake was for Long Island and a section of Queens, where New York Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, has installed a large shelter for migrants recently arrived from the southern border. Immigration pressure is a card that the Republicans have played often in this race, just as they have at the national level: they have blamed the chaos in New York and in other Democratic cities such as Denver or Chicago on President Biden, and hoped that the presence of thousands of immigrants on the streets of the Big Apple would make voters visualize the crisis. This view has also been aided by the repeated complaints of Mayor Adams, who has blamed the federal government for not contributing enough to the costs of welcoming migrants.

Recovering Santos’ seat in the House has been the first test of the election year for Democrats. The win opens a potential path to further victories in November in undecided suburban districts such as New York, where voting intention surveys show Republican hopeful Donald Trump in the lead.

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