The replacement for George Santos, the disgraced Republican congressman, is set to be decided on Tuesday, as New Yorkers head to the polls in what has become a closely watched election nationwide.
Voters in Long Island, east of New York City, face a choice between Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who previously spent six years in Congress, and Mazi Pilip, a relatively unknown local politician, in an election that will impact Republican’s narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
But more than that, the Suozzi-Pilip race has become a test for what the US can expect in the run-up to November’s elections.
Immigration, the economy, abortion and aid to Israel have proved key issues, and politicians around the country will be looking to see whether Suozzi, a moderate Democrat, is able to navigate his attachment to an unpopular president who is dealing with a much-politicized situation at the US-Mexico border.
Pilip, who was relatively unknown before the local Republican party selected her to run, has repeatedly attacked Suozzi over immigration – a tactic likely to be repeated in nationwide elections later this year. Suozzi has sought to tie Pilip to Donald Trump – who remains unpopular – and the anti-abortion movement.
The seat is seen as a key indicator of voter sentiment before the expected Joe Biden-Donald Trump election in the fall. The demographic of New York’s third congressional district is seen as a political bellwether, is largely suburban, and was one of 18 districts that Biden won in 2020, but voted for a Republican House representative in 2022.
Biden won the district in 2020, but the area swung Republican in the 2022 mid-term elections, when Santos was elected.
Santos was expelled from Congress in December after he was charged with more than 20 counts of fraud, sparking a special election. Even before the charges Santos had proved an intense source of embarrassment for Republicans, after it emerged he had fabricated huge chunks of his personal history.
As early voting for the seat kicked off last week, some voters have spoken to US media about where they stand. NBC News talked to Joe Allen, a Long Island voter who backed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, Hillary Clinton in the general election, and then Donald Trump in 2020, who said he’d be voting for Pilip in this election.
“How could you have an argument that it makes sense to have an open border in the country? And to me, and I think to a lot of people in this country, we kind of look at it as – the only reason they would want to have the border open is so that they could import more voters and retain control for the socialist turnover that they’re trying to do within this country,” Allen said.
“I believe in America … I think that across both lines, we’re getting to a point where there’s total corruption in politics.”
Another voter, Mark Schneider, of Great Neck, told the network he “voted for Suozzi because he has the experience” before adding: “It was close between Mazi and Suozzi. I’ve never seen so much advertising. You would think it’s a national election, there was so much advertising!”
Polls opened at 6am local time and close at 9pm. Whoever wins tonight’s special election will have to run again for the seat in the nationwide congressional elections in November.