Democrat Tom Suozzi wins New York race to succeed George Santos in Congress

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Democrat Tom Suozzi has won a special election in New York for the U.S. House seat that was left vacant when Republican George Santos was expelled from Congress.

Suozzi defeated Republican Mazi Pilip to retake a seat he held for three terms before giving it up to run, unsuccessfully, for governor.

The victory narrows the slim Republican majority in the House and gives Democrats a much-needed win in New York City’s Long Island suburbs, where the GOP showed surprising strength in recent elections.

On the campaign trail, Suozzi, a political centrist, leaned into some of the same issues that Republicans have used to bash Democrats, calling for tougher U.S. border policies and a rollback of New York laws that made it tougher for judges to detain criminal suspects awaiting trial. His will will likely reassure Democrats that they can perform well in suburban communities across the nation, which will be critical to the party’s efforts to retake control of the U.S. House and reelect President Joe Biden.

The unusual midwinter election became necessary after Santos was ousted by his colleagues in December, partway through his first term.

Santos won office in what had been a reliably Democratic district partly by falsely portraying himself as an American success story — a son of working class immigrants who made himself into a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker.

But many elements of Santos’ life story were later exposed as fabrications, and he was indicted on multiple charges including allegations he stole money from Republican donors. He has pleaded not guilty.

With no time for a primary before the special election, Democrats nominated Suozzi, a political centrist well known to voters in the district.

Republican leaders turned to Pilip, a relatively unknown candidate with a unique personal backstory.

Born in Ethiopia, Pilip was part of a community of 14,500 Black Orthodox Jews who were airlifted to Israel to escape civil war and famine in 1991. She was 12 at the time. Pilip later served in Israel’s defense forces, then moved to the U.S. after marrying a Ukrainian-American doctor in 2005. She became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and was elected to Nassau County’s legislature in 2021.

The short campaign was dominated by issues — abortion, immigration and crime — that are expected to shape crucial suburban races nationwide in this year’s battle for control of Congress.

Despite being an international migrant once herself, Pilip hammered Suozzi over an influx of asylum-seekers into New York City, accusing Democrats and Biden of failing to secure the U.S. southern border.

In response, Suozzi spent much of the campaign talking about the need to strengthen border policy, pointing out times when he bucked his own party on the issue while in Congress. In the final stretch, Suozzi said he would support a temporary closure of the border to slow the number of arrivals, similar to comments that Biden has made.

Suozzi counterattacked Pilip on abortion, saying she couldn’t be trusted to protect abortion rights in places like New York where it remains legal.

Pilip said she is personally against abortion but wouldn’t force her beliefs others and would oppose any attempt by Congress to impose a nationwide ban. She has also said mifepristone, an abortion medication, should be available nationally.

Both candidates expressed unwavering support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas, even appearing side-by-side in an unusual joint event intended to convey solidarity.

Democrats and Republicans will get a chance to fight over the congressional seat again in November’s general election, though the battleground may look different.

That’s because the state’s congressional districts are set to be redrawn again in the next few months because of a court order. Democrats, who dominate state government, are widely expected to try to craft more favorable lines for their candidates.

New York is expected to play an outsize role in determining control of Congress this year, with competitive races in multiple contests in the suburban and exurban rings around New York City.

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By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press

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