Tom Suozzi wins special election for George Santos' seat. Here's what it means for Congress.

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Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi defeated Republican Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip in Tuesday's special election in New York's 3rd Congressional District to finish the term of former GOP Rep. George Santos, who was indicted on federal charges and expelled from Congress in December.

With 97% of votes counted, Suozzi was winning the race for the 3rd Congressional District seat by a margin of 53.9% to 46.1%. CBS News projected Suozzi as the winner Tuesday evening.

Addressing supporters on Long Island late Tuesday night, Suozzi vowed to "send a message to our friends running Congress these days: Stop running around for Trump and start running the country."

Pilip conceded as the result became clear, but said the loss "doesn't mean we are going to end here."

Suozzi represented the district from 2017 until 2023, but opted instead to mount a primary challenge for governor. His win cuts even further into Republicans' slim majority in the House, making the final count 219-213, meaning House Speaker Mike Johnson can only afford to now lose two votes.

Who ran in the special election for George Santos' former seat?

Suozzi formerly held the seat, leaving after three terms for an unsuccessful run against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in the 2022 New York governor's race.

Pilip, who was born in Ethiopian and raised in Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces, had been a registered Democrat but told CBS News New York her views align with the Republican Party. She also said that she did not vote between 2016 to 2020 and does not support a national abortion ban. Pilip is a strong proponent of support for Israel.

NY-03 and the House balance of power

There are currently 219 Republicans and 212 Democrats in the House, with four vacancies. This means that if every member is present and voting, the Republican majority can only afford to lose three votes on any bill. Last week, House Republicans failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas because they lost three votes, and Majority Leader Steve Scalise was absent because he was undergoing cancer treatment. (Mayorkas was eventually impeached on Tuesday after Scalise returned.)

Suozzi's victory means that Republicans can now only lose two votes.

For Democrats hoping to take back the House in November, the New York seat's moderate leanings could be a bellwether for their chances.

Democrats and Republicans alike poured millions into the race to bombard the airwaves with TV ads. Suozzi and affiliated Democratic groups have spent $13.8 million on advertising, with nearly $6 million from the House Majority PAC. Pilip and affiliated Republican groups have spent $8.1 million on ads.

Congressional candidates, Mazi Pilip, left, and former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi are shown in this combination of file photos.  / Credit: AP Photos/ Brittainy Newman & John Minchillo,
Congressional candidates, Mazi Pilip, left, and former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi are shown in this combination of file photos. / Credit: AP Photos/ Brittainy Newman & John Minchillo,

Early voter turnout slightly favored Democrats, with 24,000 Democrats, 19,876 Republicans and 11,468 unaffiliated voters casting ballots, according to the Nassau County Board of Elections.

Will the snowstorm affect turnout?

Tuesday's turnout may have been affected by a snowstorm in the area, which dropped the most snow in two years, prompting several districts closed schools.

Where is NY-03?

The district spans suburban Nassau County and part of northern Queens in New York City. Known as the "Gold Coast" because of its Gilded Age mansions and wealthy residents, the area is famously depicted in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."

It had been a longtime Democratic stronghold — President Biden won it by 8 points in 2020, and that year, Santos lost to Suozzi, who had represented parts of the district since 2016. But New York's congressional districts were redrawn ahead of the 2022 election, making the district more friendly to Republicans. Long Island also became one of the only bright spots for the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections, with all four of its congressional districts electing Republicans.

Rep. George Santos' past

Santos won the district 54% to 46% over Democrat Robert Zimmerman. Before Santos took office in January 2023, the New York Times reported that it could not verify parts of his life story. His education and work history had been "embellished," he admitted. And among other falsehoods, he had told voters he was "Jew-ish" and that his grandparents had fled the Holocaust, which turned out to be untrue.

He was also accused of federal crimes. Federal prosecutors eventually charged him with 23 counts of fraud, conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. Santos has pleaded not guilty.

Santos survived two expulsion votes, but on the third attempt, the House expelled him in December.

The special election

Under New York's special election law, the parties choose the nominees, rather than holding a primary. Democrats selected Suozzi, given his long political career in the district. Suozzi, 61, has held elected office since the mid-1990s, first as mayor of the Nassau County hamlet Glen Cove, then as Nassau County executive and as a three-term member of Congress, first elected in 2016.

Republicans took a different route. Among the 25 Republicans in the running for the seat, the party chose Pilip, a 44-year-old newcomer who was first elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 2021.

Why were the national parties so interested in this race?

Both Republicans and Democrats saw this race as an early test for the general election this fall, and the race was dominated by national politics. Both Suozzi and Pilip sought to tie the other with national issues, in particular, immigration and crime.

"People see Democrat and Republican, and that's what's motivating them," said Brian Browne, a political science professor at St. John's University in Queens.

The migrant crisis has hit New York hard, and the Department of Social Services said the city absorbed 157,000 migrants over 18 months. Pilip, who is backed by the Border Patrol Union, blamed the crisis on the White House and Democrats, including Suozzi. Suozzi tried to distance himself from national Democrats, and took a hardline position on border security.

Crime also played into this race, as Pilip, also backed by several police unions, hammered Suozzi and Democrats on the issue.

Suozzi tried to link Pilip with Republicans on abortion, though Pilip said she doesn't support a national abortion ban. In their debate last week, Pilip, a mother of seven, said she's "pro-life," but abortion is a "personal decision."

The war between Israel and Hamas also loomed over the race. The American Jewish Population Project at Brandeis University's Steinhardt Social Research Institute said New York's 3rd Congressional District is 21% Jewish, making it the district with the third-largest percentage of Jewish residents in the U.S.

Pilip emigrated to Israel when she was 12 and served as a paratrooper in the IDF. She became a dual citizen when she married her husband, a Ukrainian-American doctor. She highlighted Israel in her personal story, and both Suozzi and Pilip focused heavily on outreach to the Jewish community.

Did Trump play any role in the race?

Mr. Biden won the district by 8 points in 2020, and for much of the campaign, Pilip declined to say who she voted for in 2020. She told Spectrum News 1 in an interview in January that voting was a private act, and she was focused on the future. Shortly before the election, she told Newsday that she had voted for former President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday night, Trump posted on Truth Social about the race, saying that Pilip would have won if she had endorsed him.

"Republicans just don't learn, but maybe she was still a Democrat?" Trump wrote. "I have an almost 99% Endorsement Success Rate in Primaries, and a very good number in the General Elections, as well, but just watched this very foolish woman, Mazi Melesa Pilip, running in a race where she didn't endorse me and tried to 'straddle the fence,' when she would have easily WON if she understood anything about MODERN DAY politics in America." 

How long will the winner be in Congress?

The winner in this race will only represent the district through the rest of Santos' term — meaning there will be another election in November and the winner of Tuesday's race will only be in Congress until Jan. 3, 2025. There will be a primary on June 25 to determine the nominees for the November general election. Suozzi has already announced he is running. Pilip has not declared her candidacy.

What about Santos' influence in the race?

Santos may be out of politics, but he still loomed over the race. In the debate, Suozzi tied Pilip to Santos.

"My opponent is unvetted and unprepared," he said. "We've been down this road before with George Santos. We can't go down this road again."

Pilip tried to distance herself from Santos, though she campaigned with him in 2022.

In a segment for "The Point with Marcia Kramer," residents told CBS New York's Kramer that Santos "made us all look bad" in the district.

"What is the point of me voting if you're going to have someone like that?" another voter said.

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