New Yorkers brave heavy snow to vote in special election to replace ex-Rep. George Santos

Voting signs are seen outside city hall for New York’s 3rd Congressional District special election in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Sunday, February 4, 2024.

Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

New Yorkers are casting ballots Tuesday to pick their successor to Republican ex-Rep. George Santos, who was expelled from Congress last year under a cloud of scandals and criminal charges.

Democrat Tom Suozzi, who previously represented New York’s 3rd Congressional District, is facing off against Republican Mazi Pilip, in a special election to fill the seat left vacant by Santos’ ouster.

Polls show a tight race between Suozzi and Pilip in the district, which covers parts of Long Island and Queens.

The race could have a major impact on the balance of power in Congress, but turnout expectations appear to be dampened by heavy snowfall that has blanketed roads and the parking lots of polling sites.

Democratic congressional candidate for New York’s 3rd congressional district, Tom Suozzi, gives a thumb up as he campaigns in Westbury, New York, U.S., February 13, 2024. 

Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

At the national level, both parties are pouring millions of dollars into the contest, but Democrats have spent twice as much as Republicans on advertising — $13 million in total over just 10 weeks, according to The New York Times.

Democrats might typically hold an advantage in a special election to replace a disgraced Republican who has been denounced by his own party. At a glance, the 3rd District might even look like an ideal battleground for Democrats, who have recently made strong advances in American suburbs.

But Long Island has proved an exception, trending redder during the Biden administration. Including the seat most recently held by Santos, Republicans represent all four Nassau County-area congressional districts.

So it’s no surprise that national Republicans are working to keep Santos’ district red and avoid further narrowing the party’s already razor-thin majority in the House.

Mazi Pilip, Republican congressional candidate for New York’s 3rd district, reacts during a rally at the North Valley Stream Republican headquarters in Franklin Square, New York, U.S., February 12, 2024.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Democrats, meanwhile, see the seat as a crucial step in their plan to retake the House majority, as well as an opportunity to test drive some political messaging early in the election year.

Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, has worked to make the race a referendum on immigration, a galvanizing issue for Republicans across the country — and one that has rankled New York leaders in recent months.

Suozzi has taken a harder line on immigration than many of his fellow Democrats running for Congress, and he has countered Pilip’s attacks by blasting her as an extremist for opposing a bipartisan border deal.

Democrats have also sought to tie Pilip to Santos, who had been shunned by his own constituents long before he was booted from his seat.

In addition to fighting each other, Suozzi and Pilip are contending with another challenge: a major storm that began overnight and has already dumped multiple inches of snow on New York City.

NBC News reported low turnout at polling locations in Syosset and Farmingdale. Just 199 voters cast ballots at the Syosset site between 6 a.m. and 11:25 a.m., and volunteers there blamed the storm for the lower-than-expected numbers.

Read more CNBC politics coverage

Last year, a federal grand jury in Long Island charged Santos with an array of crimes, including spending campaign contributions on personal luxury goods and lying on his House financial disclosure forms.

He pleaded not guilty to those charges and another raft of allegations that were added to his case five months later.

Santos had served just 11 months in Congress by the time he was expelled. His criminal trial is set for mid-September.

This is developing news. Please check back for updates.

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