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Polls have closed in the N.Y. special election to replace George Santos: What to watch

The contest in this bellwether New York district carries major implications for Congress, as well as the 2024 election.
Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip, candidates in the special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.
Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip, candidates in the special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.AP Images; Getty Images

GREAT NECK, N.Y. — Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District might do more than replace disgraced GOP former Rep. George Santos in the House. It could also have implications beyond Long Island, from the House majority to November’s elections. 

Democratic former Rep. Tom Suozzi faces Republican Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County legislator and Ethiopian immigrant who served in the Israel Defense Forces. Suozzi entered the race with high name recognition — he represented the 3rd District before he made an unsuccessful run for governor in 2022. 

And while Suozzi and his Democratic allies have outspent Republicans on the airwaves, strategists in both parties expect a close race Tuesday.

Follow the N.Y. special election results live

Polls closed at 9 p.m. ET. Here are five things to watch:

1. House majority implications

The GOP holds a paper-thin House majority that got even thinner after Santos’ expulsion. The margin is 219 Republicans to 212 Democrats. A victory would give the GOP a small cushion in key votes, while a defeat would put even greater pressure on them to compromise with Democrats in order to govern.

Last week showed the importance of every vote in the House when an attempt by Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas failed by just one vote. On multiple issues, small factions of House Republican rebels have been able to stymie the leadership’s plans to press their demands.

“Every election the stakes are very high. But when it’s special elections with such a slim majority, the stakes are very, very high,” House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., told NBC News at an event for Pilip on Monday night. “This is the smallest majority in the history of modern Congress. So every vote matters.”

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., who represents a neighboring district in Queens and has been working to help elect Suozzi, said a Democratic victory “would be a great morale booster. Obviously, the Republicans are having a little bit of trouble passing their own legislation. So they really need this win in order to try to function as a House.”

2. Bellwether district for 2024

The results Tuesday could provide clues for competitive races in November — the battle for the House will be fought across similar districts. Like other competitive House districts, New York’s 3rd on Long Island is largely suburban, and it’s a GOP-held district that Joe Biden won in 2020.

It's also in a state that won’t get much attention from presidential campaigns, so Tuesday night's winner and outside groups will have to shoulder much of the campaign efforts come November. But that also allows candidates to localize the race and separate themselves from the national narrative.

Suozzi has tried to do just that, stressing his willingness to work with both parties as Biden’s support in the district has dropped since 2020. A Newsday/Siena College poll released last week found Suozzi with a 4-point lead over Pilip, within the poll’s margin of error, but it also found Biden trailing former President Donald Trump by 5 points. 

Win or lose Tuesday, both Suozzi and Pilip have committed to run for full terms in November, so they are likely to face off again this year.

“I think Wednesday morning, whatever, however it ends, it’s going to start again,” Mark Schneider, a Great Neck resident who voted for Suozzi, said Monday. “So we’re going to have the same kind of campaign, the same kind of activity and a lot of advertising.”

3. Will migration fuel Republicans?

The migrant crisis has dominated recent TV ads in the district, and Republicans believe concerns about the influx of migrants to neighboring New York City will hurt support for Suozzi.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, the main GOP super PAC that spends in House races, launched a recent TV ad tying Suozzi to New York City Mayor Eric Adams with a narrator saying, “Liberals like Suozzi and Eric Adams rolled out the red carpet for illegal immigrants.”

Suozzi, meanwhile, has sought to neutralize the vulnerability by stressing his support for the bipartisan border security measure that failed last week in the Senate, arguing that Pilip, who opposed the bill, is beholden to her party’s extremes who want to use problems at the border for political gain.

Democrats also believe GOP opposition to the measure, led by Trump, gives them an opening with voters on immigration, with which Republicans typically have an advantage. Tuesday’s special election could be an early test of that strategy, although the back and forth over the bill might be playing out too late to affect the race.

4. Can Democrats leverage issues such as abortion and guns? 

Democratic outside groups, meanwhile, have been focused in part on abortion, which has helped fuel recent Democratic victories after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. 

House Majority PAC, the main Democratic super PAC involved in House races, launched a TV ad featuring video of Pilip saying she is “pro-life.” Pilip has stressed that she wouldn’t support a federal abortion ban, but she has dodged questions about whether that means she would vote to protect access to abortion.

Suozzi has sought to exploit Pilip’s refusal to state clear positions on restricting abortion or banning semi-automatic weapons — two vulnerabilities for Republicans — as further evidence that she’s in thrall to right-wing extremists who are out of step with the district on those issues. He has also called her “George Santos 2.0,” accusing her of a lack of transparency.

Pilip has said she doesn’t support access to automatic assault rifles. But in their only debate last week, on News12 Long Island, Suozzi tried to press Pilip about whether she would support barring semi-automatic weapons, which are at the heart of proposed bans, and Pilip declined to state her position.

5. Will winter weather dampen turnout?

A major winter storm that started coming down on Long Island on Election Day could dampen voter turnout in what is already expected to be a low-turnout contest.

The forecast has caused some pangs of anxiety among GOP strategists, because their voters disproportionately vote on Election Day, compared to Democrats, who vote early in bigger numbers. At a rally in Franklin Square on Monday night, Pilip and top New York Republicans urged their voters not to allow the storm to get in the way of their turnout.

"Doesn't matter if it's going to rain or snow. We're going to safely — will go out. We're going to encourage people safely to go to vote," Pilip told the crowd. "Because we're talking about saving our country. The country we love the most."

Suozzi has sought to encourage voters to take advantage of all opportunities to vote, even issuing an advisory on Tuesday morning offering voters rides to the polls if they call a particular number. He also tweeted about the storm Monday.