Is It Time For Republicans To Hit The Panic Button After Special Election Defeat?

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Mary Lou Masters Contributor
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Despite a disappointing result for the GOP in Tuesday’s special election to replace scandal-plagued former Republican Rep. George Santos, there are several reasons that the loss may not be a bellwether for November’s elections.

Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi beat Republican nominee Mazi Melesa Pilip by roughly eight points in New York’s Third Congressional District, according to The Associated Press. Polling analysts and political observers told the Daily Caller News Foundation that various unique factors related to Santos favored Suozzi’s campaign in the swing district that likely won’t hold true elsewhere, but some warned of the Democrats’ advantages more broadly ahead of November. (RELATED: ‘Very Foolish Woman’: Trump Slams GOP Candidate After Losing Special Election To Replace George Santos)

“Yesterday’s loss doesn’t mean Democrats will retake the House this fall, but it does raise a few warning signs,” Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, told the DCNF. “Republicans can’t just rely on a terrible election environment for Democrats generally, and President Biden in particular, to win. Getting outspent matters, and NY 03 shows that Republican incumbents and challengers need to build up a war chest now to be competitive in the summer and fall.”

Democrats significantly out-spent the GOP on advertising for the special election, totaling a combined $14 million, according to a memo released by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House GOP’s campaign arm, on Tuesday.

Republicans totaled $8.2 million in television spending, including more than $2.5 million coming from the NRCC, according to the memo, which emphasized what it views as still having “multiple pathways to grow our majority in November.” The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP’s super PAC, poured over $5 million into the race.

Suozzi‘s campaign spent $2.4 million ahead of the special election compared to Pilip‘s $714,273, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The former congressman also out-raised the Republican by over $3 million. A spokesperson for the NRCC emphasized that their vulnerable “Patriot” members have a $470,000 cash on hand advantage over representatives in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline Program,” which provides resources to those in competitive districts.

Democrats also outpaced Republicans in early and mail-in voting, and a snow storm that swept the area on Tuesday depressed in-person participation.

“Republicans just have got to adapt to survive,” Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist and veteran of numerous campaigns, told the DCNF. “I mean, you’re always just one snow storm away from a disaster if you haven’t banked your votes early. And I do think it may have cost the Republicans a couple of points on the margins here. Because obviously the Democrats just do a better job of getting their people to vote before election day.”

In addition to strong financials and get out the vote efforts, many argued that Suozzi had several other innate advantages, like his experience in Congress and high name recognition.

“In this district, the Democrats ran a well-known quantity who outspent a complete newcomer by two to one,” said Jennings. “And they were vying to replace someone who kind of came out of nowhere and was a bit of a wild card, and obviously didn’t pan out. I do get the feeling that going back to something familiar was working in the Democrat’s favor there. And so there might have been a bit of a ‘Santos punishment’ factor. You know, like ‘hey, we tried it your way, now we’re gonna go back to something tried and true.”

Santos was indicted twice over allegations of fraud, and a House Ethics Committee report released in mid-November suggested there was “substantial evidence” the then-congressmen broke the law. The Republican was expelled from the lower chamber on Dec. 1, decreasing the House GOP’s already slim majority.

Suozzi represented New York’s Third Congressional District in Long Island for three terms until 2022, when he ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor. The same cycle, Santos secured the seat by nearly eight points.

The former congressman was more well-known within the swing district compared to Pilip, who is a Nassau County legislator. The Republican previously served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before immigrating to the U.S.

“Special elections are rarely good proxies for the national mood, because local factors can be just as important as national factors in any given congressional district,” Mark Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist, told the DCNF. “So in New York’s Third District, the fact that the previous congressman was returned doesn’t necessarily mean a Democrat trend anywhere other than that district.”

WOODBURY, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: Democratic U.S. House candidate Tom Suozzi celebrates his victory in the special election to replace Republican Rep. George Santos on February 13, 2024 in Woodbury, New York. Suozzi defeated Republican Mazi Pilip in a race closely watched nationally as the presidential race heats up. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

WOODBURY, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 13: Democratic U.S. House candidate Tom Suozzi celebrates his victory in the special election to replace Republican Rep. George Santos. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden won the swing district by eight points in the 2020 election. However, a Siena College poll released Feb. 8 found the district favoring former President Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, by five points.

Suozzi, for his part, hardly mentioned Biden on the campaign trail, and told CNN he didn’t think it would be “helpful” if the president campaigned with him ahead of the race. Suozzi even took aim at the president over his handling of immigration, which was a top issue to voters in the district.

“Biden can’t run away from Biden, but this guy sure could — and he did,” said Jennings. “And, you know, I think that’s a lot easier to do in a special election, a low turnout special, than it is in a general election when obviously you’re going to be running underneath the presidential campaign.”

McHenry told the DCNF that the Democrat was able to take advantage of House Republicans declining to consider the Senate border deal on the campaign trail.

Republicans largely targeted Suozzi over his stance on the issue, but the Democrat released an ad painting himself as a border hawk who is supportive of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Other Democratic ads accused Pilip, who ducked questions over her support of Trump, of being a part of the “MAGA” movement.

“I do think Republicans thought that their immigration messaging was going to be very effective in this race and it just did not come to pass,” Kyle Kondik, nonpartisan polling analyst and managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told the DCNF. “That doesn’t mean it won’t be effective elsewhere but it is worth wondering whether Biden’s huge weaknesses on the issue in polling actually translate to electoral weakness.”

House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson addressed Pilip’s loss during a press conference on Wednesday, and emphasized the various factors that were to the Democrat’s advantage.

“That is in no way a bellwether of what’s going to happen this fall. We are absolutely convinced — I’ve been to 17 states in the last 12 weeks. I’m telling you, whether I’m out west, on Long Island, in the Deep South, Mid-South, Midwest — it doesn’t matter. There is a fervor among the American people, and it is bipartisan. People know that this country is on the wrong track,” said Johnson. “So, New York 3 was what it was, but that has nothing to do on the efforts going forward.”

Weaver expects Republican turnout to be higher in the general election, whereas Democrats could see a drop due to Biden’s “weak campaigning and his continued confusion,” he told the DCNF.

“Like it or not, Republican base voters are energized by Donald Trump’s candidacy and Democrat base voters are dispirited by Joe Biden’s candidacy. And I expect that that trend will continue into November,” said Weaver.

Pilip’s campaign did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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