DemDaily: The Race to Replace George Santos

January 30, 2024

The race to succeed disgraced Republican Congressman George Santos, who was historically expelled from Congress last month, is in a statistical dead heat between former Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi and Republican nominee Mazi Pilip, an Ethiopian-born local legislator.

The February 13 special election for New York's Third Congressional District presents an opportunity for Democrats to chip away at the GOP's already tenuous 222-213 House majority.

Santos, a Trump supporter who spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally the day before the January 6 Capitol insurrection, was elected to the Long Island-based Third District in 2022 -- defeating Democrat Rob Zimmerman (D) 53.8% to 46.2% in a seat previously held by Suozzi for three terms. It was one of five seats in the New York suburbs that flipped to the GOP in 2022, along with control of the House of Representatives.

Within six weeks of being elected, however, Santos' image began to unravel as numerous outlets reported that large parts of his self-published biography appeared to be fabricated, including claims about his ancestry, education, employment, charity work, property ownership and finances.

Although evidence of Santo's deceptions, including a criminal record and past aliases, were brought to the attention of national Republican leadership prior to his election, they were largely ignored until New York federal prosecutors indicted Santos in May.

All told, Santos faces 23 felony counts on fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft, among others.

A House Ethics Committee ensued and on December 1, 2023, the US House of Representatives voted to expel Santos -- only the sixth member in US history to receive the body's harshest punishment.

An Emerson College/Pix11 poll, conducted January 13-15, 2024, showed Suozzi leading Philip 45%-42%, with 5% planning to vote for someone else (MOE: +/-3.1%).

The Third District, which includes part of the North Shore of Long Island and expands across northern Nassau County and into far northeastern Queens, is the fourth-wealthiest CD nationally. As redistricted, the battleground district would have voted for Joe Biden by 10% in the 2020 presidential election.

Suozzi, who succeeded Democrat Steve Israel in 2016, left the House to run for governor in 2022, losing the Democratic nomination to incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul (D).

An Orthodox Jew and veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, Pilip emigrated to the US in 2005. She has represented Nassau County's 10th legislative district since 2022. Although she is a registered Democrat, she holds office as a Republican with the full support of the local GOP.

Pilip's ties to Israel have pushed the war in Gaza to the forefront of the campaign. Souzzi, a staunch Israel supporter himself, traveled to the country to meet with family members of Israeli hostages in December. 60% of voters support US aid to Israel and Jewish voters constitute 11% of the electorate.

The election will be the first test of voters since the October 7 assault on Israel by Hamas, and is viewed as a potential bellwether for the mood of the electorate on the war 10 months ahead of the presidential election.

Immigration and abortion are also factoring into the race, and have been subjects of attack ads by both campaigns.

The parties are waging a fierce ground game and outside groups are pouring significant funds into the race -- with Democrats having far outspent the GOP. According to AdImpact, Suozzi and Democratic-aligned PACs have spent $8.89 million in ad buys and reservations ahead of the February 13 election, compared to $3.53 million in ad spending by Pilip and her affiliated PACs.

Although Suozzi challenged Pilip to 10 debates and town halls, she has agreed to just one televised debate -- February 8th on News 12 Long Island at 8:30pm ET.

Meanwhile, Santos has kept a relatively low profile, last seen in federal court January 23 for a conference status in advance of his September trial. At the brief appearance he indignantly told reporters, "I will not vote for Democrats" in the upcoming election.

Early vote starts next Saturday, February 3, and end February 11.

DemDaily: The House Casualty List. The Update! 12/18/23
DemDaily: Congress Expels Santos! 12/1/23
DemDaily: Santos Scandal. The Con is Up! 5/11/23
DemDaily: Liars and Deniers 3/3/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Politico, New York Times, Huffington Post, ABC7NewYork, FEC, AdImpact, Jewish Democratic Council of America, Emerson College, Spectrum News NY1

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