An unusual special election taking place Tuesday in the New York City suburbs could be a bellwether in the fight for control of Congress.

Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi faces Republican Mazi Pilip, a county legislator, in a race for a House seat left vacant when George Santos was expelled from Congress.

The race, held in a district that includes suburban Long Island and a small corner of Queens, has offered a preview of political strategies both parties could use in the fall, with campaigns testing messages on immigration, abortion and public security. New York is expected to host a handful of congressional elections this year and the special election could provide clues about how crucial districts could tilt.

Still, forecasts for November could be complicated as turnout, already expected to be low given the shortened race, could be further hampered by a storm expected to dump several inches of snow on the district on Election Day. elections.

The unusual midwinter election became necessary after Santos was ousted by his colleagues in December, midway through his first term. Santos won office in what had been a reliably Democratic district in part by falsely presenting himself as an American success story: a son of working-class immigrants who became a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker.

But many elements of Santos’ life story were later exposed as fabrications and he was indicted on multiple charges, including accusations that he stole money from Republican donors. He has pleaded not guilty.

Suozzi, who previously represented the district for three terms, campaigned in the centrist lane, distancing himself from progressive policies that have not worked well on Long Island and presenting himself as a dealmaker who can work with the Republican Party.

Republicans sought to link Suozzi to criticism of Democratic President Joe Biden’s federal immigration policy, a looming political vulnerability for Democrats given the current influx of migrants into New York. Democrats have framed the race around abortion rights, a centerpiece of their election-year strategy.

Suozzi spent much of the campaign talking about the need to strengthen immigration policy. He said he would support a temporary closure of the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the number of migrants entering the city, signaling that Democrats recognize the political pressures surrounding the issue.

Pilip was born in Ethiopia but left the country at age 12 as part of Operation Solomon, when Israel airlifted some 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in less than two days as civil war raged in the Horn of Africa.

She served in the Israeli military as an adult and moved to the US after marrying a Ukrainian-American doctor in 2005. In 2021, Pilip was elected to the Nassau County Legislature.

Although Pilip publicly identifies as a Republican and won county office under the Republican Party banner, she is actually a registered Democrat. She says she registered as a Democrat when she came to the United States, but she drifted away from the party as she became more liberal. A spokesperson said Pilip intends to change her party affiliation after the election.

Despite having been a migrant, Pilip has criticized Suozzi and Democratic President Joe Biden over US immigration policy. She has advocated for increased border enforcement to stop illegal immigration, as well as the construction of a border wall.

Suozzi hit back at Pilip on abortion, saying she couldn’t be trusted to protect abortion rights in places like New York, where it remains legal.

Pilip said she is personally against abortion, but would not impose her beliefs on others and would oppose any attempt by Congress to impose a nationwide ban. She has also said that mifepristone, an abortion drug, should be available nationwide.

In their only debate before the election, Suozzi pressed Pilip to further clarify his position on abortion, asking if he was “pro-choice.” She did not give a direct answer, but instead accused Democrats of lying about her stance on abortion.

Democrats spent heavily during the campaign to boost Suozzi and win back the district, one of the few New York House seats the party wants to flip as part of its plan to win control of Congress in November. Republicans have dominated Long Island in recent elections.

“They see that, above all, I am a very strong candidate. My proven track record as a county legislator. My own story is very strong,” Pilip said in an interview. “And they are very nervous.”

By Sam