Or, it could be just about the weather.
Voters will go to the polls to decide a Long Island, New York, congressional seat vacated when former Rep, George Santos, a Republican, was ousted from the House by his colleagues.
In another race, to fill a vacant seat in the Pennsylvania state legislature, Democrat Jim Prokopiak is in a close race against Republican Candace Cabanas.The winner will determine which party controls the state house, a factor which has enormous implications for abortion-related legislation.
But it’s the New York race that has the attention of election-watchers because of its amplified importance in the closely-divided House of Representatives. Should Democrats prevail in the toss-up election, they’ll flip the seat held by ousted former GOP Rep. George Santos and give themselves some momentum heading into November.
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If the Republican wins, the GOP gets a bit more breathing room as it navigates a razor-thin majority in the House,.
“I think that for different people, different things are at stake,” says Don Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute. The institute’s most recent poll shows Democratic former Rep. Tom Suozzi with 48% support, and GOP candidate Mazi Pilip with 44% support.
Deep blue New York will be home to 5-6 “hotly contested” races for Congress this fall, Levy says, and “this one will be seen as an example of that.”
Though Tuesday’s race is not directly analogous to November’s races. Special elections (especially in outdoors-unfriendly February) tend to have lower turnout. And after a long fight on redistricting, a court last month ordered news lines to be drawn. The scenario means Democrats are almost certain to have the power to draw districts more favorable to their party, giving Democrats an edge in the fall they do not have in the Tuesday special election.
But with the 2024 presidential and congressional elections looming, the race to fill the rest of Santos’s term is both fierce and expensive, with both parties looking to the results as a sign of what swing suburban voters are thinking.
Pilip has cast Suozzi as weak on border security, a powerful issue in a state where migrants have been transported after coming over the southern border. Suozzi has emphasized protecting democracy as well as abortion rights, a position widely supported in New York but perhaps less motivating, since abortion rights are firmly enshrined in New York law.
Suozzi’s biggest booster may be Mother Nature, says Bill Cunningham, a longtime public relations specialist and Democratic operative in New York, with a looming snowstorm threatening to depress turnout.
The Democratic contender pushed his supporters to vote early or by mail, and it appears to have worked. By the last day of early voting Sunday (when Suozzi was campaigning and Pilip was not out in public), Democrats were 11 percentage points ahead of Republican voters in early voting, and 29 percentage points ahead of the GOP in mail-in ballot returns, according to Tom Bonier of TargetSmart, which analyzes voting patterns.
That’s an improvement from 2022, when Democrats had a 7.8 percentage point advantage of early voting and a 26 percentage point edge in absentee balloting, Bonier reported.
Typically, Republicans make up the difference on Election Day. But with a massive snowstorm predicted for the region Tuesday, the GOP may suffer.
“If Suozzi wins, it will be because of nature,” Cunningham says, especially if parents need to stay home with school-age children. “People are not going to walk 4-5 blocks in six inches of snow to vote.”
Suozzi has vastly out-raised Pilip, with $4.5 million in donations from Oct. 1, 2023 to Jan. 24, to $1.3 million Pilip raised from Dec. 1, 2023 through Jan, 24, according to the Federal Election Commission. (Pilip did not enter the race until December.)
But while President Joe Biden won the district easily in 2020, the district was drawn to be more competitive for the 2022 election – lines that remain in place while New York takes on yet another map-making exercise. That means Suozzi faces a tough task in wresting the seat held by the disgraced and indicted Santos, who was expelled from Congress after fabricating much of his personal biography and has been formally charged with fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds.
Santos has told local media he does not plan to vote in the race.