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Democrat Tom Suozzi wins New York special election for George Santos’ former seat

Tom Suozzi defeats GOP’s Mazi Pilip to flip the seat won by George Santos in 2022

Bevan Hurley
Wednesday 14 February 2024 14:28 GMT
Polls open in election to replace George Santos

Tom Suozzi has delivered a crucial House seat back into the Democrat column after defeating Republican Mazi Pilip in Tuesday’s special election to replace George Santos in New York’s 3rd district.

The Democrat, 61, was declared the winner just after 10pm in a resounding victory with a little over 50 per cent ballots counted, defying polls that had projected the race would go down to the wire.

With 84 per cent of votes counted, he was leading by 54 per cent to Ms Pilip’s 46 per cent.

Mr Suozzi’s victory speech was briefly interrupted when pro-Palestinian protesters stormed the stage at his campaign headquarters on Long Island.

The protesters shouted “you support genocide”, before being dragged off stage and drowned out by chants of “Suozzi, Suozzi” from supporters.

When he did begin speaking, Mr Suozzi emphasised his credentials as a pragmatic centrist and called on Republicans to “stop running around for Trump and start running the country”.

“The people want us to work together. So, get on board or get out of the way,” he said.

Residents in the district, comprising eastern Queens and the Long Island suburbs of Nassau County, had to contend with a massive blizzard that dumped up to six inches of snow on Tuesday to get to polling stations.

Democrat Tom Suozzi campaigning during Tuesday’s blizzard (Reuters)

Mr Suozzi went into election day with a healthy lead from early voting, and both candidates made a last-ditch push by offering free rides to mobilise their voters.

Mr Santos trolled the GOP for helping Democrats to expel him after the heavy defeat.

“-1,” he said in a post on X.

After the chaos of Mr Santos’ 12 months in Congress, voters opted for a known quantity in Mr Suozzi over a political newcomer in Ms Pilip.

The race had been widely touted as a key indicator for how suburban voters might cast their ballots in the general election rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Voters who spoke to The Independent earlier this week said they were ready to move on from the unseemly spectacle created by Mr Santos, who became just the sixth House member to be expelled from Congress in December.

The seat will be up for grabs again in November’s general election, but could look completely different due to a court-ordered round of redistricting that will produce a new electoral map for New York house seats.

Republicans’ majority in the House now narrows to 219-213.

The impeachment of Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, on Tuesday night by a single vote illustrated how much of a headache Mr Suozzi’s victory could be for House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Mr Suozzi will face a slew of crucial votes in the coming weeks on military aid to Ukraine and Israel, and whether to keep the federal government open.

George Santos leaves the US Capitol after being expelled on 1 December (Getty)

New York City’s migrant crisis was top of voters’ minds, and both candidates had sought to stake out hardline approaches to border security.

In their final debate, Mr Suozzi pointed out Ms Pilip’s opposition to a bipartisan Senate bill that would have tightened border security and provided aid to Israel and Ukraine. 

Republican support for the bill evaporated after Mr Trump said he didn’t want his party to solve the border crisis under Mr Biden’s presidency.

Mr Suozzi is a former three-term congressman who has held public office in the district for nearly 30 years, first as mayor of Glen Cove, and later as Nassau County executive.

He was a more polished performer on the campaign trail, and repeatedly attacked his opponent over her inconsistent positions on abortion, border security and gun safety as the race turned into a referendum on national issues.

Ms Pilip kept a low profile during much of the campaign, and was often flanked by GOP lawmakers during press conferences.

Mazi Pilip conceded defeat just after 10pm (AP)

The mother-of-seven preferred to lean in to her extraordinary biography as an Ethiopian-born, former Israel Defense Force paratrooper who had immigrated legally to the US before winning local office in Nassau County.

In a sign of how critical the election was in Washington DC, both parties pumped around $20m into negative advertising blitzes that bombarded local news channels and sportscasts, and even ran during Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Mr Suozzi also out-raised his opponent three-to-one, taking in $4.5m during the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

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