In New York, a head-to-head House race heralds a national election US Election 2024 News

Glen Cove, New York – Palaces rise from the coast. Sailboats cutting the waves. Overlooking the landscape, atop a grassy hill, is the home of former President Theodore Roosevelt.

Located on the north shore of Long Island, New York’s 3rd Congressional District is the state’s richest district — and has recently emerged as a key battleground for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

On February 13, all eyes will turn to the region as special elections will be held to fill its seat in the House of Representatives, which was left vacant after the expulsion of the former representative. George Santos.

But the risks go beyond one area. Experts say that the race can be seen as a prelude to the general elections scheduled for next November 5 presidency Every seat in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs.

“February 13 is actually November 5 in a lot of suburbs across the country, not just these ones,” said Lawrence Levy, associate vice president and executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

“Both parties see this as a starting point to test strategies, tactics and messaging – to see how they deal with the different minefields they face.”

For Democrats, Levy called these political minefields “the three Is”: Immigration, Economic inflation And Israel. He said that one of the main obstacles for Republicans is the issue of abortion.

An American flag sits on a wooden table next to him "You have voted" attachments.
Posters greet early voters at a polling station in Massapequa, New York, on February 9. (Adam Gray/Reuters)

Republicans ‘can’t afford to lose their seat’

To address these issues, control of the House of Representatives is crucial. Republicans They currently hold the largest number of seats in the House of Representatives – although their lead is very small and declining.

The party holds 219 seats, down from 222 seats at the beginning of last year. At least two Republicans have resigned in the meantime, and another has left to battle cancer.

With Democrats gaining 212 seats, the House of Representatives is vulnerable to a shift in party leadership. Any district that flips — or changes party — during the next election could help tip the balance of power in favor of Democrats.

Races like the one in New York’s 3rd District could be pivotal, Levy said. To pass their current agenda in the House, Republicans need every vote they can muster to overcome Democratic opposition, he noted. Even a small degree of partisan opposition can block legislation.

“They can’t afford to lose a seat yet, especially when there are Republicans looking for their own skin in their competitive suburban districts,” Levy said.

Levy explained that these Republicans “may be tempted to cut a deal with Democrats to maintain the image of moderates” in order to boost their individual electoral chances — even at the expense of party priorities.

Campaign signs for New York's District 3 lie on a snowbank.
Campaign signs for candidate Mazi Melissa Belep sit on a snowbank on Long Island (Yasmine Al Taji/Al Jazeera)

The history-making campaign is on fire

Thus, New York is one of several states where Republicans and Democrats alike hope to make gains this year in their membership in the House of Representatives.

Although New York State leans Democratic overall, local House races can be volatile: Experts said at least seven of the state’s 26 House districts could see interesting elections next November.

Zone 3 is one of them. In 2022, the district made national headlines with its surprise election of Santos, a political newcomer and the first non-incumbent openly gay Republican to be elected to the House.

He was part of a mini-red wave on Long Island, where two seats were wrested from Democrats. He attributed his victory to the strength of popular campaigns.

“The one thing I’m proud of is that I can prove that there is diversity of thought in this country. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you have to be a Democrat,” Santos told public radio station WNYC, speaking about his historic win.

But even before he took office, Santos became overwhelmed by the problem Controversywhere allegations emerged that He lied About his education, work history, and even his religion.

“I said I was Jewish,” he said in an interview with the New York Post, acknowledging his Catholic faith.

Santos was eventually expelled from the House of Representatives last December, after an investigative subcommittee said it uncovered “substantial evidence” that he crimes committed.

Mazzie Melissa Belep, wearing a bright pink jacket, leans over a table and smiles while a poll worker on the other side looks at an electronic tablet.
Republican candidate Maggie Melissa Bellip visits an early voting site in Massapequa, New York, on February 9. (Adam Gray/Reuters, Pool)

Veteran vs. foreigner

Republican Party leaders sought another outside politician to replace Santos: Mazi Melissa Beleb, an Ethiopian-American and former Israeli army paratrooper.

In December, Politico reported that Belp — who campaigns hard on immigration and crime — has been a registered Democrat since 2012. It described the race as “destined for drama.”

Meanwhile, Democrats nominated Tom Suozzi, the veteran Italian-American politician who held the House seat before Santos. He is considered a familiar face in Long Island politics.

Levy described the Democrats’ choice as safe and calls for compromise.

“Democrats went with a local brand that was already known throughout the state: someone who had held this office. “He’s got a record that can be a plus or minus,” he said.

Long Island voter Debbie Rocco, 70, is among those familiar with Susie’s last name. A longtime resident of Glen Cove, a small waterside town, she said the Democrat has hometown appeal. He has lived in the quiet suburban group for years.

“Everyone in Glen Cove knows Tom,” Rocco said. “I worked with him, because I was involved with a charity in Glen Cove, and he was mayor here.”

But Rocco added that just because she knew Susie didn’t mean she was excited to vote for him. “It’s the lesser of two evils at this point,” she said.

Meanwhile, Levy suggested that Belep’s candidacy may be designed to lure voters away from the Democratic Party.

“(Pilip) is an Orthodox Jew who served in the Israeli army,” Levy said. “It might appeal to some Jews who usually vote Democratic.”

Tom Susie, wearing a dark suit and red tie, speaks with his hands raised at his side in a gesture.
Former Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi is back on the campaign trail in a bid to regain his former House seat (File: Craig Ruttle/Reuters Pool)

The Gaza war is a major issue

Standing outside her snow-covered home, Rocco and her friend and housemate, Susan Corbo, 68, described themselves as independent voters. Instead of following party lines, they said they vote by issue.

“Beside abortion,” Corbo said she is particularly concerned about continued access to “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” which are government health insurance programs.

“They want to take that away from us,” Corbo explained.

She and Rocco also pointed to the Israeli war in Gaza as another crucial issue driving their vote in the special election in February.

Both Belep and Suzy were outspoken supporters of Israel amid its months-long military campaign in the Palestinian territories. More than 27,900 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on October 7, raising international concern about it. Possibility of genocide.

Pilp, a former Israeli soldier, has made support for Israel a cornerstone of her candidacy, a position popular among Republicans. But Levy pointed out that Susie is in a more sensitive situation.

the Democratic base There is division over whether Israel’s war was justified – and whether it was a cease-fire Should be called. A February poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 50% of American adults feel Israel has “gone too far.”

but President Joe Biden Other top Democratic leaders have so far refused to call for a ceasefire, alienating them Progressive members From their own party.

While Suozzi tries to balance opposing viewpoints within his party, Levy said he faces a situation similar to Biden’s.

He said: “The war in Gaza represents a special problem for the Democratic candidate.” “President Biden and Suzy’s support for Israel will alienate some young voters who have expressed concerns about the way the Israeli military has conducted its offensive.”

In this way, the special election in February could forecast Biden’s re-election prospects.

“This race has been nationalized and even internationalized,” Levy said.

Read sign "Glen Cove" Standing next to the parking lot and road after fresh snow.
Candidate Tom Suzzo comes from the small town of Glen Cove on Long Island, New York (Yasmine Al Taji/Al Jazeera)

Money flows into district racing

This increased public interest has translated into an influx of money into the race, with each side seeking a high-profile victory.

According to data from the Federal Election Commission, which maintains… Public record From campaign contributions and spending, the BILEP team raised a total of approx $1.3m Since December 2023.

Meanwhile, Suozzi’s campaign has sparked approx $4.5 million In recent months – more than three times what Belep brought in.

Jara LaMarche, former president of the liberal donor network Democratic Alliance, said these numbers are clear signs of today’s campaign fundraising climate.

“Politics has become more like sports than ever before,” LaMarche said. “A lot of people pay close attention to these races, and a lot of people donate directly to the campaigns.”

LaMarche describes the campaign contributions as a symptom of a growing awareness among Democrats that their seats in Congress may be at risk.

LaMarche said it caused somewhat of an awakening among largely democratic countries, after the loss of Democratic seats in the last elections. Currently, Republicans hold all four House seats on Long Island, in contrast to the 50-50 split just two years ago.

“One of the reasons Republicans control the House is because people in blue states didn’t pay enough attention to these House races,” he said.

He mentions cases Cheatingthe practice of manipulating district maps to favor a particular party, was seen in states such as New York and California as a flaw in the previous Democratic strategy.

In states “where there is Democratic dominance, Democrats have been very greedy to cheat,” LaMarche said. In 2022, for example, New York’s highest court invalidated redrawn districts thought to heavily favor Democrats.

In December, the court allowed the Democratic-controlled Legislature to make a second attempt to reset the House district map, raising Republican concerns about 2024. Gerrymandering is prohibited under state law, but determining what qualifies can be difficult.

LaMarche said the ongoing battle to draw House districts in New York — and the tight race on Long Island — are part of a general phenomenon of widening partisan polarization.

He added that this phenomenon is relatively new. “The two parties in this country have never been as ideologically polarized as they are today.”

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