Politics

As storm threatens voter turnout, Suozzi blasts Pilip as ‘George Santos 2.0’ on last day of early voting

PLAINVIEW, New York — On the last day of early voting in the contest for former Rep. George Santos’ vacated House seat, both candidates played it safe in a final sprint ahead of Tuesday’s special election, when a snowstorm is set to batter Western Long Island.

GOP candidate Mazi Pilip and Democratic candidate and former Rep. Tom Suozzi fanned out across New York’s 3rd Congressional District Sunday, campaigning from churches to pickleball courts in the last stretch of the race for the closely-watched swing district.

Victory for Suozzi would be a boon for Democrats who hope to flip the House in 2024, while a win for Pilip would increase the Republicans’ razor-thin majority in the chamber.

Pilip, the Nassau County legislator, continued to avoid the scrutiny of national and local media while campaigning. Meanwhile, Souzzi — a political fixture in the district he represented for six years — invited reporters to his Plainview headquarters to castigate his opponent for her reticence to speak publicly.

But the candidates had one common strategy: urging their supporters to vote early to avoid the poor weather they fear could decrease turnout on election day.

“If you don’t vote today, vote on Tuesday, but it’s gonna be hard to do because of the weather,” Suozzi told dozens of reporters and supporters gathered in the cramped campaign headquarters. Both candidates also pushed early voting on their social media accounts.

Leaving a polling center next to the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center, Lorraine Corrente told POLITICO she voted Sunday in anticipation of Tuesday’s storm. She said she had been reminded by two Suozzi representatives who rang her doorbell about 30 minutes prior.

Polls suggest the race is in a dead heat between the two candidates — one, a seasoned politician with strong name ID and another, a relative newcomer with a compelling and unique background as an Ethiopian immigrant and Orthodox Jew who fought in the Israel Defense Forces. Suozzi led Pilip 48 to 44 percent, according to a Newsday/Siena College poll released Thursday. Suozzi said he was “very happy” with the results of the poll, despite his lead lying within the poll’s 4.2 percent margin of error.

“I actually thought it would be closer than it is right now,” Suozzi said when asked about the poll — an acknowledgment of built-in advantages for the GOP in the district.

Pilip has accused Suozzi of going soft on immigration as migrants overwhelm parts of the state.

Pilip did not announce her campaign events to the media or answer POLITICO’s inquiries about her schedule Sunday, but her campaign later told POLITICO by phone that she was at an event at LifeTime fitness and then greeting parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Massapequa Park.

Suozzi, on the other hand, invited reporters and supporters to a news conference, where he blasted Pilip as “George Santos 2.0,” laying out a “six-count indictment” against her that included her voting record and performance at a debate against him that aired Thursday — the only debate of the race Pilip would agree to.

Santos was ousted from the seat in December after the House Ethics Committee released a report finding “substantial evidence” supporting federal prosecutors’ charges of a laundry list of crimes like identity theft and submitting falsified campaign reports.

“What Ms. Pilip and the Republican Party and the extremists have done in this race, the way they’ve conducted the race, has been just like George Santos with the unavailability, the non-transparency,” Suozzi said.

Pilip, who for months had refused to reveal who she had voted for in 2020, told the New York Post on Saturday that she voted for former President Donald Trump, despite being a registered Democrat, as POLITICO first reported. But Suozzi called that claim into question, quipping during his speech: “I honestly don’t believe she voted for Trump.”

“I think she voted for Joe Biden,” Suozzi said. “She voted for Hillary Clinton, too. I’m serious.”

Suozzi has pounced on Pilip’s inexperience and unwillingness to speak to the media throughout the race. On Sunday, Suozzi said he was “flabbergasted by her performance at the debate.”

“I can explain why she didn’t want to debate and I can explain why the Republican party who’s been handling her didn’t want her to debate, because she doesn’t have any detailed positions on any issues,” he added.

While Suozzi also has touted the support of powerful unions like the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council — which spent at least $10,000 on canvassing in the final days of early voting — Pilip has won the backing of most area law enforcement groups.

Twelve police unions have joined forces to endorse Pilip over Suozzi, though the New York City Police Benevolent Association is not endorsing anyone in the race.

Pilip’s spokesperson did not respond to POLITICO’s request for comment for this article. In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Pilip called Suozzi an “extremist” who “is trying to run away from his record.”

“He wants to create these feelings of me and Santos in the same place,” Pilip said. “Come on, let’s focus on the real issues.”

Beyond affecting the majority in the House, the fate of the race will be an important bellwether for New York politics, where suburbs have bucked a national trend and turned increasingly red.

Republicans have a three-year winning streak in the Long Island suburbs east of New York City, and issues like public safety and property taxes are top of mind for the district’s voters. Accordingly, the two candidates have been battling to own themselves as the centrist in the race while casting their opponent as an extremist.

While Pilip claims Suozzi is effectively part of the far-left “squad” in congress, she carefully, and sometimes confusingly, toes the line on issues like abortion and gun control.

Meanwhile, pro-Suozzi groups are eager to paint Pilip as “MAGA Mazi” and link her with the party’s right-wing leadership, all while boasting the former congressman’s centrist views, like his support for the House GOP’s standalone bill for Israel aid.

If Suozzi wins, “it’d be a big morale boost for the Democrats in New York State,” state Democratic chair Jay Jacobs told POLITICO.

“I think (winning) sets the tone and gives us momentum moving into November,” he said. “It also demonstrates, I think, what a winning argument looks like in the suburbs and upstate.”