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GOP-backed Pilip to face ex-congressman Suozzi to replace Santos in special election

Republicans in New York designated Mazi Melesa Pilip, a local legislator in Nassau County, to run to replace expelled representative George Santos (R-N.Y.) in Congress during a special election next year, setting the stage for a high-profile race that could be consequential in helping determine the party balance of the House.

Pilip, a registered Democrat who embraces much of the Republican agenda, will face off against former congressman Thomas Suozzi (D), whom New York Democrats selected this month to be the party’s nominee.

Suozzi — who represented New York’s 3rd District in the House before Santos and left the seat to run an unsuccessful campaign for New York governor — had already said he would run for a full term in his old seat in November 2024.

The special election gives Democrats a chance to flip a seat in the House, where Republicans maintain a slim majority. Seats flipped by New York Republicans in 2022 were instrumental in helping the GOP secure the majority, and their districts have become a top target of Democratic attacks ahead of the 2024 elections. Santos’s old seat, in particular, is a competitive one, given that Joe Biden won the district by more than 10 percentage points in 2020.

The special election, which will take place Feb. 13, was spurred by the House’s expulsion of Santos after his indictment on 23 criminal counts and a scathing House Ethics Committee report released in November that found “substantial evidence” that Santos knowingly violated ethics guidelines, House rules and criminal laws.

New York law stipulates that unlike in normal elections, there are no primaries during special elections, which means local parties choose their nominees. The winner of the special election will serve the rest of Santos’s term, which ends in January 2025.

The Nassau County Republican Committee confirmed Pilip’s nomination, saying in a statement that Pilip “will bring a fresh new perspective to Washington.” The committee called her “an effective tax fighter who will prioritize public safety, economic recovery, border security and tax relief in Congress.”

Pilip did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A relative political newcomer, Pilip was first elected to her position on the Nassau County Legislature in 2021. She has said her family was evacuated to Israel from her home country of Ethiopia in 1991 as part of Operation Solomon, a secret 36-hour airlift to transport about 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. She served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces and immigrated to the United States in 2005.

Responding to the Republican pick, Suozzi’s campaign focused on the former congressman’s record and did not lodge any political attacks against his new opponent. Kim Devlin, a senior adviser with the Suozzi campaign, said “people are sick and tired of the circus in Congress.”

“Tom Suozzi has a proven record that he will work every day to try and bring common sense back to Washington by working across party lines, like he’s always done,” she added.

Republicans appear to be getting behind Pilip’s appointment.

The Republican Jewish Coalition on Thursday endorsed Pilip. Rep. Richard Hudson (N.C.), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, called Pilip “a formidable candidate.” And Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), who represents a neighboring congressional district, said in a statement that Pilip “is the common sense candidate for Long Islanders who are tired of” Democratic-led policies.

“I look forward to working with Mazi Pilip to advance the priorities of our Nassau County neighbors by supporting our police, combating antisemitism, delivering [state and local tax] cap relief, and working to end the border crisis,” he added.

Democrats and liberal groups, meanwhile, are already scrutinizing her, including the fact that she has been a registered Democrat dating back to 2012, according to county records reviewed by The Washington Post and reported earlier by Politico. On Thursday, the House Majority PAC — a super PAC focused on electing Democrats to the House — claimed she “ran away from the tough questions” when she declined to discuss her policy positions, including her position on a national abortion ban, in depth with the New York Times.

“What makes you a Republican and not a Democrat?” Brian Kilmeade, a Fox News host, asked Pilip during an interview Friday morning.

“My values” lay more with the Republican Party, she said. Pilip also said the main issues facing the district are the border, inflation, public safety, Israel and taxes. Also on Friday, she told supporters at a news conference on Long Island, “I am the example of the American Dream.”

A spokesman for the Nassau County Republican Party told The Post on Friday that the organization was aware Pilip was a registered Democrat since she first sought their support to run for local office in 2021. New York State election rules allow political parties to give permission to candidates not registered in the party to run for office on their line.

The chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), referred to Pilip as a “MAGA extremist.”

“Pilip and Republicans will be held accountable for their shameless record of propping up corruption and working against the best interest of constituents in New York’s Third Congressional District,” she said in a statement.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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