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Tom Suozzi beats Mazi Melesa Pilip in 3rd Congressional District special election

By Paul LaRocco and Scott Eidler

Democrat Tom Suozzi defeated Republican-backed Mazi Melesa Pilip in the intensely watched special election to replace expelled Rep. George Santos in the 3rd Congressional District, surviving eight weeks of intense campaigning and a last-minute, turnout-disrupting snowstorm.

“We addressed the issues, and we found a way to bind our divisions,” Suozzi told a cheering crowd at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury Tuesday night.

“There are divisions in our country where people can't even talk to each other … all they do is yell and scream at each other,” Suozzi said. “The answer is to bring people of good will together to try and find that common ground.”

Suozzi's win represented the first significant victory in a major race for Nassau Democrats in three years.

“We out-machined the machine,” said Nassau and state Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, referring to the turnout operation of the county GOP.

In a concession speech to her supporters at the Lannin restaurant in East Meadow, Pilip said: “We are fighters. Yes, we lost, but it doesn't end here.”

'We fell short'
Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Cairo said Pilip had already called to congratulate Suozzi on his victory.

“We fell short," Cairo said. “It was a very short campaign, very compact and Mazi did a great job.”

Suozzi gave up his congressional seat in 2022 for an unsuccessful gubernatorial primary bid, and Santos won the seat by nearly 8 percentage points amid a Republican wave.

Santos, a Republican, served only 11 months. The House expelled him on Dec. 1, after a blistering ethics report accused him of defrauding campaign donors for personal profit. Santos has pleaded not guilty of federal charges that he made thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges on credit cards belonging to some of his campaign donors.

“Thank God,” Suozzi said as he began his victory speech, putting his hands in the air. “Let me just enjoy this for just one more minute.”

He kept his cool as a protester holding a Palestinian flag chanted: “You support genocide.”

Both Suozzi and Pilip, a second term Nassau County legislator, have expressed strong support for Israel in its war with Hamas militants.

Ran as moderate
Pilip, 44, of Great Neck, is a registered Democrat who ran with GOP backing. The Ethiopian Israeli immigrant and Orthodox Jew centered her campaign on the influx of migrants at the U.S. southern border, attempting to lump Suozzi in with progressive Democrats and President Joe Biden.

But Suozzi ran as a moderate Democrat and kept Biden at arm's length.

“Despite all the attacks, despite all the lies … about Tom Suozzi being the 'godfather' of the migrant crisis, about 'sanctuary Suozzi,' despite the dirty tricks … we won,” Suozzi said.

Suozzi's victory gives House Republicans an even slimmer majority. On party-line votes, the GOP will now only be able to afford two defectors.

Those high stakes led to a heavy focus on national issues in the special election, particularly the migrant influx, and heavy outside spending. Democratic- and Republican-aligned super PACs had poured $16.5 million into the race through Friday, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Ads attacking Pilip funded by the Democratic House Majority PAC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accounted for the bulk of that spending.

The candidates themselves raised a total of about $6 million through late January, with Suozzi outpacing Pilip by a 2-to-1 margin.

Suozzi appeared to have outperformed public opinion polls that predicted a very close race. Last week, a Newsday/Siena College poll had Suozzi leading Pilip 48% to 44%, within the survey's 4.2% margin of error, and a PIX11/Emerson College poll showed Suozzi up by 50% to 47%, within the survey's 3.5% margin of error.

Border emerges as top issue
Suozzi and Pilip plied different strategies on the campaign trail.

With more than 30 years in local politics and government, Suozzi still sometimes resembled a newcomer. He was ubiquitous on the campaign trail and accepted numerous invitations for candidate forums that Pilip declined.

Pilip had far less name recognition but limited her appearances with Suozzi and hewed closely to GOP talking points as her party expressed confidence that they'd continue the success that has seen them win most offices in Nassau since 2021.

They debated only once, at News 12 Long Island studios last week.

Suozzi argued Pilip lacked the experience and policy knowledge to serve the district effectively. Pilip pilloried Democrats and Suozzi on the border.

At the start of the special election campaign, issues such as support for Israel and restoring the federal state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, were prominent. But in the final weeks, nearly all the focus moved to the border.

Suozzi in the final days flipped the script on Pilip, labeling her as an extremist for opposing a bipartisan U.S. Senate border bill that drew opposition from former GOP President Donald Trump and House Republicans. The measure would have allocated $118 billion to bolster border security and send wartime aid to Israel and Ukraine.

Pilip supported a House Republican bill, H.R. 2, that lacked Democratic support. The legislation would force asylum-seekers to stay in detention centers on the other side of the border.

“This race was fought amidst a closely divided electorate, much like our whole country,” Suozzi said in his victory speech.

Late last night, the White House said Biden and first lady Jill Biden called Suozzi to congratulate him on his victory.

Trump, in a post last night on his social media platform "Truth Social,” said "Republicans just don’t learn … I have an almost 99% Endorsement Success Rate in Primaries, and a very good number in the General Elections, as well, but just watched this very foolish woman, Mazi Melesa Pilip, running in a race where she didn’t endorse me … "

High stakes

Democrat Tom Suozzi will serve the remainder of the term of expelled former GOP Rep. George Santos, through Dec. 31.

Suozzi also must run again in November for a full two-year term.

The outcome of the race could have a significant impact on party-line votes in the House of Representatives. There are 431 House members — 219 Republicans and 212 Democrats and four vacancies after Santos’ expulsion and the resignations of two Republicans and one Democrat. With Suozzi's victory, the GOP majority stays at 219 while the number of Democrats rises to 213 — and Republicans can lose the votes only two of their members in a party-line vote with Democrats.

House members earn $174,000 a year.