Tuesday’s special election in New York’s Third Congressional District will determine who will replace George Santos, a former Republican congressman and serial storyteller, for the rest of the year. But the political fallout could be felt far beyond the borders of Nassau County and Queens, with lessons for both sides in November.
The race pits Mazi Pilip, a little-known Nassau County legislator running as a Republican, against Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who previously held the seat for three terms before leaving to run for governor. The race is expected to be close – with the wild card of a major snowstorm at the last minute on Election Day.
My colleague Nick Fandos, who has been following the race closely, reported today that the powerful Nassau County Republican machine is closely managing Philip’s campaign. Her election records do not show a single person on her campaign payroll, a highly unusual arrangement.
Here’s our guide to the issues dominating the race and how they could play out in the 2024 general election.
Republicans have embraced immigration as their central issue, hoping to capitalize on suburban voters’ unease about the wave of migrants pouring into cities like New York. Philip, who was born in Ethiopia before immigrating to Israel and then the United States, campaigned outside a migrant shelter in Queens, accusing her opponent and President Biden of bringing “the border crisis to our front door.” Republicans have spent millions covering the airwaves with ads portraying Suozzi as an “open borders radical.”
Suozzi, for his part, has refused to concede on the issue, making a tougher stance on immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. He called on Biden to lock down the border and said a group of migrant men accused of assaulting police officers should be deported. He also criticized Philip for opposing a bipartisan Senate border bill.
If Suozzi’s strategy succeeds, his approach could become the new immigration playbook for other Democrats running in volatile suburban districts.
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Democrats have embraced abortion rights as an energizing force in their coalition. The $13 million they spent on advertising in the race — twice as much as Republicans — characterized Philip as an ardent opponent of abortion rights.
Filip, an orthodox Jew and mother of seven children, describes herself as “pro-life”. In the first and only debate of the race last Thursday, she said she would not support a national abortion ban. But she refused to say what abortion restrictions she would support and attacked Suozzi for pressing her on specifics, accusing him of telling the woman what she believed.
“I went through pregnancy. I suffered,” she said. “It’s a personal choice. Every woman should have that choice. I’m not going to tell her what to do.”
If Philip wins, her approach could become popular among Republican candidates, who have struggled to find a voter-friendly stance on abortion since the fall of Roe.
Road to November
Democratic and Republican leaders will be watching tomorrow’s special election to see how their messaging strategies might play out this fall on a key battleground.
Control of the House in 2025 could hinge on a handful of suburban areas around New York like the Third District, which stretches from the outskirts of Queens to the suburbs of Nassau County. Republicans flipped four of those districts in 2022, helping them win a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
At the time, Hakeem Jeffries, a congressman from Brooklyn who would soon become the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, predicted that those gains would be short-lived. He described the seats like those “Republicans rent, not own.”
Special elections, typically characterized by low voter turnout and subject to the dynamics of idiosyncratic districts in the House of Representatives, are not perfect predictors of general elections. Think of them as previews for a Broadway play: they might signal how the show might go, but nothing really counts until the curtain goes up on opening night.
Or, keeping Jeffries’ metaphor in mind, this special election may give Democrats their first inkling of how long that Republican lease might last.
RFK Jr. apologizes for Super Bowl ad
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized last night after the super PAC supporting his presidential campaign launched Super Bowl ad tinged with nostalgia which closely resembled the place made famous by his uncle John F. Kennedy.
The ad featured the same jingle and the same cheerful caricatures interspersed with candid photos of Kennedy, who won that race in 1960, with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s face superimposed on it.
Some members of the Kennedy family were quick to criticize the ad. Many of them condemned him for his promotion of unsubstantiated theories about vaccines and other matters.
Bobby Shriver, nephew of John F. Kennedy, said on X: “My cousin’s Super Bowl commercial used our uncle’s faces — and my mother’s. She would be appalled by his deadly views on health care. Respect for science, vaccines and health care fairness were in her DNA.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. himself, who during his candidacy referred to his legendary political family and its legacy, soon responded.
“I’m so sorry if the Super Bowl ad hurt anyone in my family,” he wrote on X on Sunday night. “The ad was created and aired by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or approval from my campaign. FEC rules prohibit Super PACs from consulting with me or my staff. I love you all. God bless you.”
Separately, the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint Friday accusing Kennedy and the super PAC of illegal coordination.
Kennedy is running for president as an independent. His candidacy has worried many Democrats who fear that Kennedy – an environmental lawyer who has become a prominent purveyor of conspiracy theories – could draw votes away from President Biden.
The super PAC reinforced those suspicions. A significant portion of his funds, about $15 million, came from Timothy Mellon, a Republican who also gave $10 million to a super PAC supporting former President Donald J. Trump.
Robert Shrum, a longtime Democratic political consultant, wrote: “This ad for RFK Jr. The Super Bowl is a direct plagiarism of the JFK ad from 1960. What a fraud — and to quote Lloyd Bentsen with a slight amendment: ‘Bobby, you’re not John Kennedy.’ Instead, you are a Trump ally.” — Rebecca Davis O’Brien
Read the full story here.