What to watch in Tuesday’s special elections in New York and Pennsylvania

Two special elections on the East Coast taking place Tuesday could provide some insight into what to expect up and down the ballot going into November’s general election.

In New York’s 3rd Congressional District, former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) is facing off against Republican Mazi Pilip following the ousting of former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). The district, which includes parts of Long Island and Queens, has become more purple in recent years, increasingly favoring Republicans at the local level.

Further south in the Philadelphia suburb of Bucks County, Pa., Democrat Jim Prokopiak and Republican Candace Cabanas are competing to represent Pennsylvania’s 140th state House district. Bucks County is considered one of the country’s quintessential suburban swing districts and could provide intel about suburban and independent voters going into November.

Here are five things to watch ahead of Tuesday’s special elections:

Do Democrats stave off an embarrassing loss in New York?

The special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District is viewed as a pickup opportunity for Democrats following Santos’s numerous scandals and ultimate expulsion from Congress.

Suozzi represented the district before Santos’s election in 2022 and has high name ID in the area, having served as the county executive of Nassau County and the mayor of Glen Cove, N.Y. A loss for Democrats in the district could spell trouble for the party, which is already facing tough headwinds this year.

An Emerson College Polling/PIX11/The Hill survey found that Suozzi is viewed favorably by 48.5 percent of voters and unfavorably by 50.1 percent, while Pilip is seen favorably by 46.5 percent of voters and unfavorably by 46.7 percent. Seventy-three percent of voters said Santos is viewed unfavorably, which could play into Democrats’ hands.

The district, which includes much of Long Island’s Nassau County, has elected Republicans including Santos and its Republican county executive. Additionally, the district voted for former Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-N.Y.) gubernatorial bid in 2022. But, the district has leaned Democratic at the presidential level.

Republicans have sought to tie Suozzi to Biden amid the president’s low approval ratings. The dynamic shows that there are no guarantees for Suozzi in the current national political environment despite his name ID and the Santos saga.

How close is the New York race?

Polls show a tight race between Suozzi and Pilip. The same Emerson College Polling/PIX11/The Hill survey released last week showed Suozzi leading Pilip 50 percent support to 47 percent. When undecided voters were asked to pick a candidate, Suozzi’s lead over Pilip grew to 52 percent to 48 percent. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 points.

Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, a close race would not grant either candidate a mandate heading to Capitol Hill. However, a close race would mean that the district would be in play going into 2024, which could stand to weaken Democrats in one of the most reliably blue states in the country. On the other hand, a close race for Republicans would give the party further optimism following the party’s better-than-normal performance in 2022’s House races.

What does it tell us about GOP messaging on immigration?

The backlash to the Biden administration’s handling of the flow of migrants is impacting Democrats across the country, including in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

An Emerson College poll released last month found that 26 percent of voters listed immigration as their most important issue, followed by the economy at 22 percent and crime at 15 percent.

The special election in the district will be one of the first since the debate about the border has boiled over across the country.

Republicans, including Pilip, have worked to tie Suozzi to Biden’s immigration policies as well as the now-defeated bipartisan Senate package addressing the issue. The legislation contained measures including expedited asylum claims and new authority that would have allowed the president to close the border to migrants without asylum appointments if the daily average of encounters reached 5,000.

Suozzi, who has positioned himself as a moderate, came out in favor of the legislation. However, many House Republicans were vehemently against it, effectively sealing its fate before it ever had a chance to reach the lower chamber. Pilip was also against the bill, referring to it as a “non-starter” and saying it would have “put into law the invasion happening at the southern border.”

“If ‘Sanctuary Tom Suozzi’ returns to Washington, he will continue to support Joe Biden’s agenda of open borders and sanctuary cities 100% of the time,” Pilip said.

Can Dems build their majority in the Pennsylvania state House?

Last week, the stakes in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 140th state House district somewhat changed when GOP state House Rep. Joe Adams resigned. The outcome of the election will no longer determine the outcome of the balance of power in the state House; instead, Democrats are now aiming to grow their one-seat majority in the chamber.

Democrat Jim Prokopiak and Republican Candace Cabanas are competing to represent the district, which includes Bucks County, outside of Philadelphia. The area is considered a prime suburban bellwether in statewide and presidential races, but Democrats appear to have the upper hand going into Tuesday. Democrats have represented the district since 1969.

However, the race has garnered attention at the state level in the wake of some recent vacancies in the state House chamber. At the national level, the district has piqued interest due to its location in Bucks County. The county is known as a major swing district at the presidential and Senate level. Some political watchers say the outcome of Tuesday’s special election in that state could provide some insight as to what to expect in November’s general election.

What is turnout like?

Special elections often result in lower turnout due to the race not being a part of a larger general election and lower coverage surrounding the race. If the early vote turnout is any indication, Democrats appear to be on track to dominate turnout in Pennsylvania’s 140th state House district. As of Friday, 3,304 ballots had been cast. According to The Associated Press, 79 percent of Democrats make up those ballots compared with 13 percent of Republicans.

Meanwhile, in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, an incoming winter storm could impact turnout on Long Island. Lower turnout among Election Day voters could hurt Republicans. It’s unclear what early voting looks like in the district, but according to The Associated Press, in 2022 roughly 29 percent of the vote in Nassau County and Queens was cast before Election Day. Early voting wrapped in the district on Sunday.

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