Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District will determine who replaces George Santos, a former Republican congressman and serial fabulist, for the rest of the year. But the political ramifications could be felt far beyond the borders of Nassau County and Queens, with lessons for both parties in November.
The contest pits Mazi Pilip, a little-known Nassau County lawmaker who is running as a Republican, against Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who held the seat for three terms before running for governor. The race is shaping up to be close – with the last-minute wildcard of a major snowstorm on Election Day.
My colleague Nick Fandos, who has been closely following the race, reported today that Nassau County’s powerful Republican machine is closely managing Pilip’s campaign. His campaign filings do not show anyone on his campaign payroll, an extraordinarily unusual arrangement.
Here’s our guide to the dominant themes of the race and how they could manifest in the 2024 general election.
Republicans have made immigration their central issue, hoping to capitalize on suburban voters’ unease with the wave of migrants arriving in cities like New York. Pilip, who was born in Ethiopia before immigrating to Israel and then the United States, campaigned outside migrant shelters in Queens, accusing her opponent and President Biden of bringing “the border crisis to our doorstep.” . Republicans have spent millions to blanket the airwaves with ads portraying Suozzi as an “open borders radical.”
Suozzi, for his part, refused to budge on the issue, making a tougher stance on immigration the centerpiece of his campaign. He called on Biden to lock down the border and said a group of migrant men accused of assaulting police officers should be deported. He also criticized Pilip for his opposition to a bipartisan border bill.
If Suozzi’s strategy succeeds, his approach could become a new immigration model for other Democrats running in vibrant suburban districts.
Since Roe v. Wade was overruled, Democrats relied on abortion rights as an energizing force for their coalition. The $13 million they spent on advertising during the race – twice as much as Republicans – characterized Pilip as an ardent opponent of abortion rights.
Pilip, an Orthodox Jew and mother of seven, describes herself as “pro-life.” In the race’s first and only debate last Thursday, she said she would not support a national ban on abortion. But she refused to say what abortion restrictions she would support and attacked Suozzi for pressing her on details, accusing her of telling a woman what she believed.
“I went through a pregnancy. I suffered,” she said. “It’s a personal choice. Every woman should have that choice. I’m not going to tell her what to do.
If Pilip wins, her approach could become popular with Republican candidates, who have struggled to find a voter-friendly position on abortion since the fall of Roe.
The road to November
Democratic and Republican leaders will be watching tomorrow’s special election to see how their messaging strategies might play out this fall, in a crucial battleground.
Control of the House in 2025 could rest with a handful of suburban areas around New York City, such as the Third District, which stretches from the outskirts of Queens to the suburbs of Nassau County. Republicans flipped four of those districts in 2022, helping them win a narrow majority in the House.
At the time, Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn congressman who would soon become the House’s first Democrat, predicted those gains would be short-lived. He described the seats as ones that “Republicans rent, not own.”
Special elections, which are typically characterized by low turnout and are subject to the dynamics of idiosyncratic House districts, are not perfect predictors of general elections. Think of them as previews for a Broadway show: They might hint at how the play might go, but nothing really matters until the curtain goes up on opening night.
Or, keeping Jeffries’ metaphor in mind, this special election could give Democrats their first clue as to how long the Republican lease will last.
RFK Jr. apologizes for Super Bowl ad
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized last night after a super PAC supporting his presidential campaign ran a campaign Nostalgia-tinged ad for the Super Bowl which looked a lot like a place made famous by his uncle John F. Kennedy.
The ad featured the same jingle and cheerful cartoons interspersed with candid photographs of Kennedy, winner of that 1960 race, on which Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s face was superimposed.
Some members of the Kennedy family were quick to criticize the ad. Many of them denounced him for his promotion of unsubstantiated theories about vaccines and other topics.
Bobby Shriver, a nephew of John F. Kennedy, said on X: “My cousin’s Super Bowl commercial used our uncle’s faces – and my mother’s faces. She would be appalled by his deadly views on health care. Respect for science, vaccines and health care equity was in his DNA.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. himself, who invoked his famous political family and legacy throughout his candidacy, quickly responded.
“I am truly sorry if the Super Bowl commercial caused any member of my family pain,” he wrote on X Sunday night. “The ad was created and distributed by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or endorsement from my campaign. FEC rules prohibit Super PACs from consulting me or my staff. I love you all. God bless you.”
Separately, the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit Friday accusing Kennedy and the super PAC of illegal coordination.
Kennedy is running for president as an independent. His candidacy has worried many Democrats who fear that Kennedy — an environmental lawyer who became a prominent purveyor of conspiracy theories — will siphon votes away from President Biden.
The super PAC heightened these suspicions. A substantial portion of its funding, about $15 million, came from Timothy Mellon, a Republican who also gave $10 million to a super PAC supporting former President Donald J. Trump.
Robert Shrum, a longtime Democratic political consultant, wrote: “This RFK Jr. Super Bowl ad is a pure plagiarism of the 1960 JFK ad. What a fraud – and to quote Lloyd Bentsen with a slight amendment: “ Bobby, you’re no, John Kennedy. Instead, you are a Trump ally.” — Rebecca Davis O’Brien
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