New York voters will decide on Tuesday who will replace disgraced ex-Congressman George Santos in a race that could determine the politics of the House for the rest of the year.
Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican Mazi Pilip are locked in a tight battle to fill the vacant seat that encompasses parts of Long Island and Queens. The swing district that has both elected Republicans and Democrats in recent years.
The special election on February 13 comes as Republicans have a narrow majority in the House with just 219 seats while Democrats hold 212 seats.
With such a slim majority, the GOP have struggled to move forward with Speaker Mike Johnson’s most pressing priorities.
Just this week, Republicans suffered an embarrassing blow when they failed to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a chaotic vote. If Democrats pick up another seat before the re-do vote to boot Mayorkas can be held, Republicans can kiss thoughts of impeachment goodbye.
At the same time, House Republicans are grappling with effort to pass aid to Israel after a standalone bill also crashed and burned.
With the threat of their majority shrinking even further and Democrats looking to flip the House this fall, all eyes are on the critical New York special election where more than $25 million could be spent on advertising in the race by Election Day.
Republican Mazi Pilip and Democrat Tom Suozzi are vying to fill the congressional seat left vacant since the ousting of Congressman George Santos
Who is on the ballot?
Democrats are aiming to reclaim the seat with the election of Tom Suozzi, a three-term former congressman who represented the district from 2017 to 2023 before launching a long-shot bid for governor.
Republicans have put their faith in GOP candidate Mazi Pilip, an Israeli-American who served in the Israel Defense Forces before immigrating to the U.S. and being elected a Nassau County legislator.
An Emerson College poll released on Thursday shows Suozzi and Pilip in a tight race with Suozzi at 50 percent and Pilip at 47 percent among likely voters.
Another Newsday/Siena poll also showed Suozzi with a slight lead over Pilip at 48 percent to 44 percent.
Mazi Pilip cast her ballot early at a polling station in Massapequa, NY on Friday. She is locked in a tight race against Democrat Tom Suozzi to fill the seat vacated by George Santos.
Tom Suozzi looks to return to the seat he previously held before running for governor
Voters in New York’s Third District head to the polls for the special election on February 13
With the race locked in a statistical tie, both candidates have been campaigning on issues that have been front and center in recent months such as border security and support for Israel.
Issues at stake
Pilip and Suozzi each held dueling press conferences outside a migrant shelter in Queens last month putting the crisis on the forefront in the race as the debate over the border heated up in Washington.
Suozzi has criticized House Republicans for refusing to negotiate over the border and has taken aim at his opponent’s opposition to the bipartisan border bill introduced in the Senate. Pilip has criticized the bipartisan deal, claiming it ‘legalizes the invasion’ of the U.S. at the southern border.
The issue is also playing out on the airwaves. In an ad targeting Suozzi by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP Super PAC, Suozzi is featured saying how he ‘kicked ICE out’ as Nassau County executive, but Suozzi has pushed back, releasing his own ad featuring him defending immigration authorities.
The candidates have also fiercely clashed over abortion, which has proven to be a successful line of attack by Democrats since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in 2022. Suozzi and multiple outside groups backing him have been running ads on the issue.
Pilip, the mother of seven who describes herself as ‘pro-life,’ has said she would not back a national abortion ban and every woman should be able to make their own decision, but she has voiced support for the Dobbs decision in which the Supreme Court returned abto states.
Perhaps where the candidates have been more closely aligned is their stance on Israel. Both have actively been engaging New York’s Jewish community as Israel carries out a war in Gaza following the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7.
Suozzi set himself apart from some Democrats by announcing his support for the Republican-led standalone aid bill for Israel.
He said while he would prefer a bipartisan comprehensive package he is committed to doing whatever it takes to stand with Israel. That bill failed in the House.
Pilip, who is an Ethiopian Jew and served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army, has also been vocal in her support for Israel and critical of the rise of anti-semitism in New York.
While Pilip and Suozzi have remained largely focused on their district, the special election has been overshadowed by the 2024 presidential race.
Pilip has accused Suozzi for voting with Biden ‘100% of the time’ and has tried to link him to the so-called squad. Suozzi has dismissed efforts to link him to the progressive wing of the Democratic party responding during the lone debate it is about ‘as believable as you being a member of George Santos’s volleyball team.’
Meanwhile, Pilip, a registered Democrat despite serving as a Republican, has declined to say whether she voted for President Trump in 2020. She has committed to voting for whoever is the Republican nominee in 2024 but has said Trump ‘cannot represent us’ if he is convicted.
Replacing George Santos
And while many Republicans want to look past the election of the fabulist serial liar who flipped the district seat from blue to red in 2022, his presence looms large in the race to replace him.
Suozzi has invoked Santos on multiple occasions and warned his opponent is ‘unvetted and unprepared.’
Pilip has pushed back on the accusations that her public record is thin, but the memory of Santos has been hard to shake.
Ex-Congressman George Santos speaking on Capitol Hill. He was expelled from Congress last year, leaving New York’s Third District seat vacant
Santos is facing multiple charges of fraud and theft. He will go to trial later this year.
Last fall, Santos pleaded not guilty to multiple charges. He is accused of stealing the identities of campaign donors and ran up thousands of dollars in bills as well as using campaign contributions to pay for personal expenses like designer clothing and Botox.
In November, a long-awaited House Ethics Committee report found substantial evidence Santos violated ethics and committed crimes prompting a motion to expel him from Congress.
On December 1, Santos became only the sixth House member to ever be expelled from the House, opening a vacancy in the New York Third District.
Santos is scheduled to stand trial in September.