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3 takeaways from the New York special election

Democrats had reason to celebrate yet another election Tuesday, with Tom Suozzi winning the special election for the seat of indicted and expelled former congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.) and flipping the district blue.

A former U.S. House member, Suozzi led Republican nominee Mazi Pilip 54 percent to 46 percent in the Nassau County- and Queens-based 3rd District with 85 percent of expected votes counted.

The special election adds to a string of good Democratic elections in recent years, even as concern has crept in about President Biden’s standing in the 2024 presidential election.

Below, some takeaways.

The win is a significant one for Democrats in that it flips a seat.

This was a district Republicans won just 15 months ago by eight points, and Suozzi’s win was comfortable enough that the race was called just over an hour after polls closed, with about half the vote in.

It means Republicans’ narrow House majority will become even narrower: 219-213. (Two GOP-leaning seats are vacant, as is one Democratic-leaning one. Republicans probably won’t have a chance to restore their seven-seat majority until June.)

Legislating has already proved immensely difficult for a divided GOP House, and losing a seat gives them less margin for error. Even the events just hours before polls closed showed how significant that can be: House Republicans impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by just one vote, 214-213, after failing to do so last week. If Suozzi had been seated, the GOP apparently would have come up short again.

By the same token, this is a district that has generally leaned Democratic in federal politics and was held by Democrats before Santos. Biden won the district by a Suozzi-esque eight points in 2020. The district has trended red in recent years — especially in 2022 — but it was hardly unforeseeable that Democrats could win it back.

But at a time when Democrats are fretting, effectively matching Biden’s 2020 performance is a good sign. And it would be merely the latest in a long string of good Democratic elections — special and otherwise.

The question after every special election like this is, of course: How much should we read into it when it comes to the national political environment? That’s doubly the case in a competitive district nine months before a presidential election.

The unsatisfying answer is: something, but not too much. It’s better to put it in the context of all recent irregular elections. That picture, though, is also kind to Democrats.

Yes, this is people actually voting rather than mere polls, but it’s one out of 435 districts. It’s also an unusual district in a part of the country that trended Republican in 2022, even as the rest of the country turned in a historically good election for Democrats (especially given that the party that holds the White House usually suffers).

There’s also the fact that Santos didn’t exactly do his party any favors. And the candidate matchup seemed to favor Democrats more than the presidential matchup does. A late Siena College poll showed Suozzi leading by four points, even as Biden trailed by five.

Generally speaking, parties that do well in special congressional elections tend to do well in the following election — as Democrats did in 2022 after a string of good results that followed the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. But there are notable exceptions.

Better, then, to take a holistic view. That holistic view is that Democrats have clearly done well in most such races since 2022 — often even better than a 2020 election that they won.

Daily Kos’s special election tracker shows Democrats have overperformed the 2020 presidential results by an average of five points across more than three dozen special congressional and state legislative elections since the 2022 midterms. They have beaten their 2016 margins by an average of nine points.

They have had cause for cheer in other marquee races, too, including a Wisconsin Supreme Court race and a 2023 election that featured the blue side winning a key Ohio abortion referendum. They also held the Kentucky governorship and turned the Virginia legislature blue.

Special elections haven’t been as resounding for Democrats of late, but Suozzi’s win was joined Tuesday by a lopsided Democratic win in Pennsylvania in a semi-competitive suburban district that kept the state House in their hands.

There is some reason to suspect that the Democratic turnout advantage in these special elections might not hold up in November — the GOP is so singularly geared toward Trump that its voters might not turn out as much when he’s not on the ballot, but will when he actually is.

But if the point is winning and overperforming, Democrats continued to do it on Tuesday.

With the caveat that you can’t necessarily apply the results to the national political picture, the New York race did feature some notable dynamics.

Perhaps the biggest one is that the GOP’s attempts to make the race about immigration didn’t succeed.

Republicans turned to the issue early and often, pointing to a 2022 Suozzi comment about having “kicked ICE out of Nassau County” as county executive.

But Suozzi, who left Congress to run as a more moderate primary alternative in 2022 to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), emphasized his pragmatism on the issue, calling for tougher border security and supporting the bipartisan Senate deal that Republicans ultimately torpedoed last week. Pilip echoed GOP attacks on the bill, saying that “it simply puts into law the invasion currently happening at our southern border.”

One race doesn’t mean the Democrats have found their winning message on immigration — an issue that dogs Biden more than any other — or that GOP opposition to the Senate deal is going to cost them. But Suozzi seemed to provide a road map for navigating the issue, and it suggests the party’s rightward shift on border security could mitigate the problem somewhat.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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