EAST MEADOW, N.Y – Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi has won a closely watched special election for a vacant House seat once held by former Republican Rep. George Santos, who was expelled from the chamber in December.

The Associated Press projected that Suozzi would defeat Republican county lawmaker Mazi Pilip, to win back his old job.

With the GOP hanging on to a razor-thin majority in the House, national Republicans and Democrats poured big bucks into a race in suburban New York City where immigration and border security, crime, and abortion were the top issues, and where the election was seen as a bellwether ahead of the all-but-certain November White House rematch between President Biden and former President Donald Trump.

“I did call my opponent. I congratulated him,” Pilip told supporters at an election night gathering. “We are fighters. Yes, we lost. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to end here.” 

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Former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, Democratic candidate for New York’s 3rd congressional district, speaks at his election night party Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in Woodbury, N.Y. Suozzi won a special election for the House seat formerly held by George Santos. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah) (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Suozzi, speaking a few minutes later at his victory celebration, emphasized that “despite all the attacks and despite all the lies about Tom Suozzi and the squad, about Tom Suozzi being the godfather of the migrant crisis, about sanctuary Suozzi, despite the dirty tricks, despite the vaunted Nassau County Republican machine, we won.”

The Long Island district held for a decade by Democrats was flipped by Santos in the 2022 midterms. But Santos was kicked out of Congress less than a year into his tenure, after he was exposed for lying about his background and indicted for a slew of financial crimes.

Suozzi, who represented the district for six years before running unsuccessfully for governor, repeatedly tied Pilip to Santos, as well as to former President Donald Trump.

“Who knows what she really stands for? She’s George Santos 2.0. It’s the exact same nontransparent, phony baloney, just trying to get votes instead of saying what you really think,” Suozzi charged on the eve of the election.

And Suozzi, a former mayor and county executive, argued that Pilip – who is in her second term as a county lawmaker – “is a far-right wing extremist” who is “totally in line with Mike Johnson and Donald Trump .”

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Pilip, an Ethiopian Jew who fled to Israel at age 12 to escape persecution and who later enlisted and served in the Israeli military before immigrating to the United States, linked Suozzi to President Biden and blamed him for the migrant crisis.

“You know, he is the one who opened the southern border. He voted with Biden 100% of the time. He supported squad members 90% of the time, he is the one who caused the migrant crisis,” Philip claimed in a Fox News interview on Sunday.

Mazi Pilips loses special congressional election in New York

Republican congressional candidate Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County lawmaker, speaks to supporters after conceding the NY-03 special election to former Democratic Rep. Tom Souzzi, on Feb. 13, 2024 in East Meadow, N.Y.  (Fox News – Paul Steinhauser )

Suozzi, a centrist and moderate Democrat, kept his distance from Biden and his party when it came to immigration.

But the White House announced that the president called Suozzi to congratulate him on his victory. And the Biden campaign argued that “Donald Trump lost again tonight. When Republicans run on Trump’s extreme agenda – even in a Republican-held seat – voters reject them.”

With the Republican majority in the House slipping to 219-213 once Suozzi is sworn in, the pickup by the Democrats now puts the GOP’s grip on the chamber further in peril.

The contest may also offer clues to how top issues like immigration and abortion will impact November’s elections. 

“Tom Souzzi rolled out the red carpet for illegal immigrants,” claimed a recent TV ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the main super PAC supporting House Republicans.

And a commercial from the House Majority PAC, the top super PAC backing House Democrats, charged that “Mazi Pilip is running on a platform to ban abortion.”

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Besides campaigning heavily on crime and immigration, Pilip – a former Democrat who argues the party “left me and many others” – also spotlighted the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel as she aims to win voters unhappy with the far-left’s criticism of the Jewish State and support for the Palestinians.

But her support of Trump – who she has acknowledged she voted for in 2020 – was potentially a concern with moderate voters who are not fans of the former president.

Meanwhile, Suozzi showcased his support for Israel and a trip he made to the country last year.

Mazi Pilip speaks with reporters in the snow on Election Day in NY-03

Republican congressional candidate Mazi Pilip speaks with reporters outside a polling location in Massapequa, New York, on Feb. 13, 2024, amid a snowstorm during a special Congressional election in NY-03.  (Fox News – Paul Steinhauser)

While Suozzi, a campaign veteran, welcomed his interactions with reporters, Pilip’s public appearances were carefully managed.

The district, which includes a sliver of the outer portion of the New York City borough of Queens, is anchored in neighboring Nassau County. And it’s the kind of suburban district where Democrats need to dominate in the 2024 elections as they aim to reclaim the House majority they lost in the 2022 midterms.

But while Democrats have performed well in suburban districts in recent cycles, Republicans have a history of coming out on top on New York’s Long Island. While Biden carried the current confines of the district by eight points in his 2020 presidential election victory, Santos won the 2022 election for the open House seat by the same margin.

Tom Suozzi special congressional election New York

Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi (center, waving) greets voters outside of a polling location on Feb. 13, 2024 in Glen Cove, New York, in a special congressional election in NY-03.  (Fox News – Deidre Heavey)

The final public opinion polls in the special election suggested that Souzzi was clinging to a slight single-digit edge over Pilip.

With votes still being counted late on Tuesday night, Suozzi held an eight point margin over Pilip.

Turnout was considered key in the outcome of this election. Democrats appeared to enjoy a slight edge in the nine-day early voting period, which ended on Sunday.

And a winter snowstorm walloped the New York metropolitan area on Tuesday morning, as polls opened, which likely cut into turnout on Election Day.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

 

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