Democrats seek US House seat vacated by Republican George Santos

Turnout, already expected to be light for a special election in February, was further depressed by a winter storm that blanketed New York on Tuesday morning with several inches of heavy snow, prompting both campaigns to offer free rides to polling places in the afternoon. The district, which supported Biden in 2020 before flipping to Republicans in the 2022 mid-term elections, has served as a testing ground for both parties' messaging ahead of the fall election, when the presidency and control of both chambers of Congress will be at stake.


Reuters | Updated: 14-02-2024 06:05 IST | Created: 14-02-2024 06:05 IST
Democrats seek US House seat vacated by Republican George Santos

Democrats were aiming to whittle away Republicans' thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in a New York special election on Tuesday to fill the vacancy created by Republican George Santos' ouster from the chamber. Mazi Melesa Pilip, an Ethiopian-born Republican county legislator who served in the Israeli military, and Tom Suozzi, a Democratic former congressman, county executive and mayor, are vying for the seat representing a small corner of New York City and some of its eastern suburbs.

Polls close at 9 p.m. ET (0200 GMT Wednesday). Republicans hold a narrow 219-212 House majority that has proven hard to manage, illustrated by the chamber's failure last week to pass a measure to impeach President Joe Biden's top border official, Alejandro Mayorkas, which fell short by one vote when a few Republicans voted no. The House approved the measure on Tuesday, after No. 2 Republican Steve Scalise returned from cancer treatment to cast a decisive vote.

Santos was expelled by the House in a historic vote after a nearly 11-month tenure, when his fellow lawmakers ejected him over criminal corruption charges and allegations of misspending campaign money. Turnout, already expected to be light for a special election in February, was further depressed by a winter storm that blanketed New York on Tuesday morning with several inches of heavy snow, prompting both campaigns to offer free rides to polling places in the afternoon.

The district, which supported Biden in 2020 before flipping to Republicans in the 2022 mid-term elections, has served as a testing ground for both parties' messaging ahead of the fall election, when the presidency and control of both chambers of Congress will be at stake. "This race could be a bellwether for swing suburban districts around the country that are going to decide who controls the gavels of Congress," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies.

A central issue in the election has been immigration, as it has been elsewhere in the country ahead of an expected rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump in November. Pilip has repeatedly hammered Suozzi and the Democratic Party on the issue, accusing them of failing to control crossings at the southern border with Mexico. Pilip was endorsed by a labor union for Border Patrol officers.

"I kept migrants from being sent to Nassau and will secure the border when I get to Congress," Pilip wrote in a Facebook post, referring to New York state's Nassau County. Suozzi, who represented the congressional district for six years before stepping down and running unsuccessfully for governor, has called Pilip's attacks against him misleading and said she has been short of specifics on how she would address border security. He has touted his own bipartisan immigration compromise and criticized Republicans for rejecting a bipartisan border security deal negotiated in the Senate, which collapsed after Trump urged Republicans to spurn it.

"Ms. Pilip points out there's a problem, there's a problem, there's a problem. She has no solutions," Suozzi said in the election's only debate. He has also attacked Pilip on abortion, an issue that Democrats have put front and center since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated a nationwide right in 2022. Pilip has said she is personally against abortion but does not support a federal ban.

Neither candidate's campaign responded to requests for comment.

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