New York 3: Santos Expulsion Triggers Special Election

by Jacob Rubashkin December 7, 2023 · 6:00 PM EST

Embattled New York Republican George Santos was expelled from the House of Representatives last Friday in a 311-114 vote. The congressman’s ousting came just less than a year after reports first broke of Santos’ serial fabrications about his background; he is also facing federal campaign finance charges and was the subject of a withering House Ethics Committee report released last month.

With Santos gone, New York’s 3rd District will hold a special election to fill his seat for the rest of the term. Gov. Kathy Hochul has set the date for the special election as February 13.

New York has a somewhat unique procedure for special elections. Unlike in regularly scheduled contests, the parties do not pick their nominees through traditional primary elections. Instead, the party leaders of each county that comprises the district select a candidate to be their standard-bearer.

The 3rd District is predominantly Nassau County on Long Island, and though it does include a sliver of Queens, it is the chairmen of the Nassau County Democratic and Republican parties — Jay Jacobs and Joe Cairo — who ultimately choose their party’s nominee.

Jacobs selected former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who previously represented the 3rd District for three terms. The former Nassau County Executive left Congress in 2022 for a longshot bid for governor and was already running in the regularly scheduled election. He beat out former state Sen. Anna Kaplan for the nod.

Republicans have yet to announce their candidate and are unlikely to until early next week, but it appears to be coming down to two or three options: retired NYPD detective and security company owner Mike Sapraicone, Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, and potentially state Sen. Jack Martins, though GOP leaders did interview several other candidates.

Strategists in both parties anticipate an expensive and highly competitive race no matter who the GOP nominee is. 

While the district leans Democratic at the presidential level, voting for Joe Biden by 8 points in 2020, it turned sharply rightward in 2022 along with the rest of Long Island. Santos won by a convincing margin and every single statewide GOP candidate carried the district just four years after Democrats swept those races by double digits.

It’s not obvious Democrats have sorted out their issues on Long Island in the year since, either. In local elections last month, Republicans exceeded expectations in Nassau County, flipping control of the town board in North Hempstead, which is part of the 3rd District, for the first time in 24 years, and ousting an incumbent Democratic county legislator.

Because the district is wholly encompassed by the expensive New York media market, each party will have to shell out significant funds to boost their respective candidates, with total ad spending easily expected to cross into eight-figure territory and potentially rise as high as $40 million, several sources tell Inside Elections.

A win here for Democrats would narrow Republicans’ already precarious House majority to just 221-214, with one vacancy expected when former Speaker Kevin McCarthy resigns at the end of the year. That could have implications for both the House GOP’s ability to pass bills, and also the ability of new Speaker Mike Johnson to avoid meeting the same fate as his predecessor in a motion to vacate fight.

Perhaps more importantly, the results of this special election will set the tone for the coming fight for the House in November 2024. Democrats’ have staked their path to the majority on winning back Biden-won seats, especially in New York, where the party turned in a poor performance last year. Depending on pending redistricting litigation, Democrats could feasibly target up to six GOP-held seats in New York alone. A loss in the 3rd District could call into question that path.