With George Santos out of Congress, special election to fill his seat is set for February

FILE - Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves the Capitol after being expelled from the House of Representatives, Dec. 1, 2023, in Washington. The special election for the Santos' former House seat is set for Feb. 13, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday, Dec. 5. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough, File)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A special election to pick a successor to George Santos, the New York Republican who was expelled from the U.S. House last week, will be held on Feb. 13, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday.

The race for a seat representing some Long Island suburbs and a small part of the New York City borough of Queens is expected to be a high-profile contest that will mark the start of a year of consequential congressional elections in the state.

For Democrats, the election will be a test of the party's ability to flip districts around New York City that are seen as vital to their plans to retake control of the House. Republicans enter the contest with heavy momentum on Long Island and will fight to hold on to the district as they look to maintain their narrow House majority.

Candidates in the special election will be picked by party leaders, not voters.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi has emerged as the potential frontrunner nominee for Democrats. Suozzi, 61, represented the district for six years before launching an unsuccessful campaign for governor last year, and previously held political posts as a county executive and mayor on Long Island.

The centrist Democrat's deep ties in Long Island politics may provide name recognition and the ability to quickly stand up a campaign — vital attributes in an narrowly focused election where voters will have a limited amount of time to pick their representative.

Suozzi had announced his campaign for the seat before Santos was expelled, and has been promoting a series of endorsements from local politicians and labor groups after the district became vacant.

Also vying for the Democratic nomination is former state senator Anna Kaplan, who has in recent days taken potshots at Suozzi's record and sought to center the special election on passing federal legislation guaranteeing abortion rights.

On the Republican side, potential names include retired police detective Mike Sapraicone, Air Force veteran Kellen Curry and Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip, an Ethiopian-born Jewish woman who served in the Israeli military.

Sapraicone, who is also the founder of a private security company, said he has been interviewed by county Republicans who will select the nominee, with the panel quizzing him on his political stances, his ability to fundraise and quickly launch a campaign.

Like Suozzi, Sapraicone launched his campaign before Santos was expelled and has already begun to fundraise, with his campaign coffers including $300,000 of his own money, he said.

“For us to maintain the House and retain the majority is so important,” Sapraicone said. “It’s so important that New York sets the tone here in February.”

Democrats want to flip at least five House seats in New York next year, with the Santos seat being a potential early indicator of their chances in November.

The party has dedicated significant financial and organizational resources to the state, after a series of losses last year in the New York City suburbs helped Republicans take control of the House and brought down heavy criticism on state Democrats.

President Joe Biden won the district in 2020, but Republicans have notched major electoral gains on Long Island in recent years as moderate suburban voters have gravitated toward the GOP.

In the latest sign of Republican strength on Long Island, the GOP won several local elections on the island last month, including races in the now-vacant district.

Santos was expelled from the House last week following a scandal-plagued tenure in Congress and a looming criminal trial. He is only the sixth member in the chamber’s history to be ousted by colleagues.