Democrats pick Suozzi to replace George Santos in special election

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NEW YORK — The race to replace George Santos is underway.

Former Rep. Tom Suozzi was tapped Thursday to be the Democratic nominee to replace the scandal-scarred Santos in a critical Long Island seat that will be one of the major battleground races in the nation — the first major one of 2024.

New York Democrats are turning to the well-known Suozzi to run in the Feb. 13 special election called by Gov. Kathy Hochul after Santos was expelled from the House last week.

Suozzi’s bid received the backing of Queens Rep. Greg Meeks and Jay Jacobs, the chair of both the Nassau County Democrats and the statewide party, who endorsed him in a joint statement.

In a special election, party bosses pick the candidates to fill the remainder of the term. Then there would still be the potential of a primary in June ahead of the November election for a full, two-year term starting in 2025.

“Tom Suozzi has a proven record of fighting for his constituents, fighting to safeguard our suburban way of life here on Long Island and Queens and always advocating for sensible solutions to the real challenges affecting everyday average Americans,” they said in the statement.

The special election is expected to draw national interest and millions of dollars in campaign spending to the district, which covers parts of Nassau County and Queens. Republicans have yet to name a candidate for the race.

Democrats hope to flip the district in the special election and narrow the razor-thin Republican majority in the House, with New York expected to play a pivotal role in 2024.

An estimated six House seats in New York, five of which are held by first-term Republicans, are considered to be battleground seats next year, including the one Santos represented for less than a year.

Set in a bellwether and largely suburban district, the February contest is also expected to be an early test and showcase for messaging among both parties with issues like the migrant crisis, public safety and abortion expected to loom large.

“I will work day and night with both parties to deliver for the people to make living here more affordable, safer, and better. I delivered for this district before, and I will do it again by putting you ahead of partisanship,” Suozzi said in a statement.

Suozzi, a former three-term lawmaker who is considered a moderate, left Congress in 2022 to run an unsuccessful Democratic primary against Hochul. He also served as the mayor of Glen Cove and the Nassau County executive.

The primary challenge rankled Hochul, and she huddled privately with Suozzi in Albany earlier this week to clear the air and discuss campaign strategy.

“I wanted to talk to him directly about what his plan was and how he would run his race,” Hochul told reporters at an unrelated news conference in the Bronx on Wednesday.

The meeting included a discussion over polling and strategy so Democrats can “run the strongest possible candidate” to replace Santos, she said.

Republicans knocked Suozzi’s conciliatory approach with Hochul, who has registered low job approval ratings in public polling.

“Given that voters are already fed up with her handling of crime and the migrant crisis, Tom Suozzi prostrating himself for Kathy Hochul is bound to end poorly for him,” Savannah Viar, a spokesperson for the House GOP’s campaign committee said.

Democrats are trying to demonstrate a united front. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries praised the selection as someone with “a proven record of results.”

And Democratic candidates also sought to coalesce around Suozzi.

Party leaders passed over Suozzi’s remaining rival, former state Sen. Anna Kaplan, who had announced her campaign for the seat earlier this year. She endorsed Suozzi in a statement soon after the nomination was announced.

Republicans are expected to announce their candidate in the coming days. Party leaders have insisted they will conduct a rigorous vetting process when screening candidates after the Santos fiasco of his lies about his life experiences.

Already there have been questions raised about the backgrounds of some of the potential nominees.

Records show Nassau County Legislator Mazi Pilip, elected on the GOP line, enrolled as a Democrat. Another candidate, Mike Sapraicone, recounted a story in April on a podcast that he found a person scary because they were Black.

State Sen. Jack Martins, attorney Greg Hache and Air Force veteran Kellen Curry are also considered potential nominees.

Santos, who has acknowledged fabricating large swaths of his biography was ejected from Congress in an expulsion push backed by his fellow Republican first-term lawmakers.

He faces nearly two dozen federal fraud counts and a House Ethics Committee report in November concluded he deceived donors and likely broke campaign finance laws.

Out of office, Santos joined Cameo, charging $400 for a personalized video. He has also taunted his former colleagues since his expulsion.

On X, formerly Twitter, Santos knocked the process to replace him.

“The level of corruption is so insane that this is what they wanted … remove me the most conservative member of the NY delegation and replace me with another Dem or RINO,” he wrote.

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