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Biden-district Republicans shrug off New York special election loss

They argue Democrat Tom Suozzi’s victory in a battleground House district was the result of a unique set of circumstances rather than a sign of what's to come this fall.
Don Bacon, R-Neb., leaves a meeting.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., outside the Capitol Hill Club last month.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Vulnerable Republicans are downplaying the implications of a House special election victory for Democrats this past week, even though it occurred in a district that typically mirrors the national environment, calling the result a product of unique circumstances and not a sign of things to come this fall.

Democrat Tom Suozzi won a suburban New York district that President Joe Biden carried in 2020 and flipped to former GOP Rep. George Santos in 2022. But as a buoyant Democratic Party says it’s a harbinger for the upcoming fight for control of the House, a quartet of other Republicans in districts Biden won told NBC News they’re not worried they will suffer the same fate in their re-election bids.

Suozzi’s “profile is similar to me, on the other side. He knows how to reach in the middle. He criticizes his own party on occasion. He’s willing to take on some of his own guys, and I think the middle-of-the-road voters respond to that,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a top target of Democrats who represents an Omaha-based swing district.

“I have a similar profile in my own district where I’m my own guy,” Bacon said. “And I think Tom Suozzi’s a formidable candidate. That’s the bottom line. That’s probably the number-one thing.”

Bacon and other Republicans contend that Suozzi — a former congressman for six years who left in 2022 to launch a failed bid for governor — benefited from high name recognition, cash advantages and an Election Day snowstorm that hurt turnout.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., a freshman who represents a neighboring Long Island district that also voted for Biden in 2020, said Republican Mazi Pilip’s loss was “disappointing,” but vowed that the party will “be back” in November.

“This is an exercise in early voting for Republicans — to embrace that. Obviously, from the time that polls opened till midday, there was substantial snow in some of our Republican strongholds that probably kept some of our seniors that we depend on for a few thousand votes home,” D’Esposito said.

“Tom Suozzi had the name recognition after being in politics for, probably, most of my life. And I think that there is a concern here from both sides of the aisle that they look at Washington as a tad bit chaotic right now. And I think that is our job,” he said. “One of the things that I’ve been focused on since I got here is really making sure that you have your boots on the ground, your ear to the ground and that you’re delivering and being the voice for the people back home. And that’s one of the things that is most important to me.”

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., another top Democratic target who represents a Hudson Valley-area district, said Suozzi won because he “ran a strong campaign” and “was a de facto incumbent.”

Lawler added that Suozzi also “ran to the right on immigration.”

“So look, kudos to him. He ran a good race,” Lawler said. “But at the end of the day, this is a district Biden won by 8 points. George Santos obviously was a stain on the race. And fortunately now we can all move on from George Santos and be done with him.”

Lawler said that despite complaints about it from within his party, he has no regrets about voting to expel Santos, the indicted half-term congressman, “because I actually have ethical standards.”

Polls suggest there is another reason to be skeptical that the result will translate in November: Democrats are now stronger with highly engaged voters who turn out in special elections.

Republicans, meanwhile, are faring better with low-propensity voters who tend to stay home in off-year races but show up in presidential elections, surveys say.

Another Republican in a competitive district said the lessons of the special election are limited to the district.

“It’s a reflection of New York’s 3rd District on Feb. 13,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. “It’s a snapshot. They had two good candidates running. Tom’s a good man. He’s a friend of mine, and he knows the job. He’s been here before.”

Asked about Suozzi’s strategy to go on offense with border security, Fitzpatrick said he and Suozzi have “traveled to the border together,” and “I look forward to working with him on that.”