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Tom Suozzi won the special election for George Santos' House seat

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Voters in New York have replaced expelled Republican Congressman George Santos with a Democrat. Former representative Tom Suozzi will return to the House. He's previously served three terms there. And yesterday he won a special election after a campaign that was dominated by immigration. Let's recap and look ahead now with Brigid Bergin of member station WNYC. So Brigid, this congressional district, it's on Long Island in outer New York City, and that is far away from the southern border. And yet immigration was the dominant issue in this race. Tell us why.

BRIGID BERGIN, BYLINE: Well, it's largely because it's the New York City media market. And for over a year, it has been a top story. The city has been trying to house and support thousands of migrants sent to the state by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. And it's become a real flashpoint between local leaders here who are Democrats and the Biden administration. Republicans seized on this issue. They tried to link Suozzi to President Biden. AdImpact, which tracks political ad spending, found the GOP talked about immigration more than any other issue.

SUMMERS: And, I mean, just yesterday, as this election was wrapping up, the Republican-led House of Representatives here in Washington impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by one vote over border security. How did Suozzi there in New York talk about this issue?

BERGIN: So what he did was really agree that it was a problem. But instead of letting his opponent define the issue, he talked about working across the aisle to address it. And he said he would have supported that bipartisan deal that came out of the U.S. Senate last week and really knocked Republicans who spiked the plan because the GOP presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump, opposed it. Last night, Suozzi said he's committed to overcoming these divisions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM SUOZZI: The whole campaign has been about, how do we communicate to people that we can be better if we work together to try and solve the problems we face in our country? And that's the message...

(APPLAUSE)

SUOZZI: That's the message that resonated with the people in this campaign.

BERGIN: And now he brings that message to Congress and other suburban swing districts in New York and across the country.

SUMMERS: And with this victory, the slim Republican majority in the House is even slimmer. Are Democrats talking about this race as a blueprint for how to campaign on immigration in November?

BERGIN: Yes, some absolutely are. Take New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who Suozzi actually challenged unsuccessfully in 2022. She said today that Suozzi was right to call out New York Republicans for opposing that bipartisan border deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATHY HOCHUL: Tom Suozzi could point out the hypocrisy, the shocking hypocrisy, of Republicans in our own state to do what they have the power to do, and they keep pointing fingers at everybody else. I have said they now own this problem.

BERGIN: I should note, immigration advocates add that this was as much a rejection of the rhetoric on the right as it was support for Suozzi's more moderate approach.

SUMMERS: Right. And, Brigid, last thing, what are the risks for Democrats of reading too much into this one race?

BERGIN: Well, there are a lot of ways this election was special that might not translate when connecting to other suburban voters. It was the only race on the ballot. Suozzi is a real name brand there. Money was pouring into this race with Democrats outspending Republicans. And Suozzi built this really diverse coalition of support from labor and others to get out the vote. But Republicans put their bet on a novice who shied away from the campaign trail.

SUMMERS: Right.

BERGIN: And voters spent a long time trying to get to know her after the infamous George Santos saga. And so that stealth strategy really wasn't a winner here.

SUMMERS: Brigid Bergin of member station WNYC. Thank you.

BERGIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brigid Bergen