Early voting kicks off on Saturday for a suburban New York election that both Democrats and Republicans have been pouring millions of dollars into.
The race to replace expelled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., in the Empire State’s 3rd Congressional District is being watched as a potential bellwether for Republicans’ chance of keeping the House of Representatives next year.
It’s between Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip, a Nassau County official, and former Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., who left his seat at the end of 2022 for an unsuccessful bid to primary Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“I think it’s anybody’s game at this point,” Naysa Woomer, Santos’ former communications director and a former aide to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, told Fox News Digital. “Even though Tom Suozzi was the former member that represented NY-3 for quite some time, but it’s still a new ballgame — especially with Mazi Pilip…she’s a local legislator. I think that could give her a real leg up, just having that name recognition but at a local level.”
The race is shaping up as a test run of whether House Republicans can overcome a chaotic term fueled by having a thin but highly divided majority. Nationally, Democrats have seized on the dysfunction, while Republicans seized on issues like the high cost of living and the border crisis, which polls have shown as top of mind for voters.
Pilip told Fox News Digital in an interview that her race, if successful, could be a roadmap for Republicans to keep the House.
“This is a special election, but it’s going to also give us a picture for the November 2024 election. So it is very important. It is about saving the country, it is about common sense government,” Pilip said. “We can’t lose this election.”
Some of Pilip’s most vocal backers in Congress are the New York Republicans who led the charge to expel Santos, including Long Island Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., who told Fox News Digital he was confident Republicans would keep the seat.
“So there’s… four M’s as to how to win this election in NY-3 — message, money, manpower and, in this case, Mazi,” LaLota said. “We’re out front on the border, folks know that Republicans have common sense solutions that will help fix our border. The same on inflation — our economic policies… are the right things that provide the right solutions to the problems facing Long Island and Queens residents.”
But a Democratic operative familiar with the race suggested Suozzi, in addition to his attention to local issues, would have an edge with voters weary of what they see in the House GOP majority. That includes the many scandals Santos saw before being expelled over federal charges and a damning Ethics Committee report related to misuse of funds.
“We are in a special election because the Republican Party repeatedly protected George Santos,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesperson Ellie Dougherty told Fox News Digital, noting House GOP leaders’ silence amid a small faction’s calls to boot him.
However, LaLota denied that Santos would be an anchor for Republicans.
“George Santos is a knucklehead. Republicans know it. Democrats know it. Independents know it. We’re not shy about acknowledging that reality,” LaLota said. “We have been very straightforward and honest about it, and because we Long Island Republicans led the charge to remove him, I think we have a tremendous amount of credibility with the electorate.”
The Democratic operative said the left’s message in the last stretch would emphasize Suozzi’s decades of political experience and bipartisanship, while hammering Pilip as inexperienced and unvetted — a bid to tie her to Santos.
But Pilip refuted those accusations on Friday, telling Fox News Digital her background was extensively searched in the wake of Santos, and added she was “very proud” of her history as an Israeli-American immigrant and Israeli Defense Force soldier.
She also accused Suozzi of being a “career politician,” painting himself as a moderate while voting for progressive policies while in the House.
“Yes, he has the name recognition, but you know what, people remember him for his bad policies out there,” Pilip said.
The DCCC said of Pilip, “Mazi Pilip has nothing to say on issues that matter to voters. Even on immigration and border security, she only spews talking points her extreme Republican Party bosses give her… Meanwhile, Tom Suozzi has a long record of working with anyone to deliver for Nassau County and Queens.”
A spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee told Fox News Digital of the race, “Tom Suozzi and Joe Biden caused the migrant crisis that is wreaking havoc in New York, and voters have had enough. Mazi Pilip is a strong, formidable candidate who will stand up to Biden and stop the inflow of illegal migrants into New York.”
Fox News Digital tried several times to reach Suozzi’s campaign for comment but did not hear back.