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New York election will decide who replaces former GOP Rep. George Santos

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today is the final day to cast votes for a consequential special election in New York's third congressional district. That seat was last held by Republican George Santos, a controversial figure to say the least who kind of lied about everything. He was expelled from the House last year after being indicted on 23 federal counts relating to misusing campaign funds. He's pleaded not guilty to those charges. Brigid Bergin of the member station WNYC is covering the race and she joins me now. Good morning.

BRIGID BERGIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So an important race. Could help decide who controls the House. The Democrats want to flip it, but the GOP candidate has a razor-thin majority right now. Who did the Republicans tap to run?

BERGIN: So the party leaders chose Mazi Pilip. She's currently in her second term with the Nassau County Legislature as a Republican. I should note she's actually a registered Democrat. A big part of her campaign centers on her identity. She's an Orthodox Jew, mother of seven, born in Ethiopia, fled to Israel to avoid religious persecution and then immigrated to the United States several years ago. And with the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, she's really made support for Israel central to her campaign. This is her speaking at a campaign event in the district.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAZI PILIP: I lived in Israel. I served in the Israeli army. I will be a voice, and I know with that clear voice, I will be able to do a better job than Tom Suozzi when it comes to Israel.

BERGIN: Now, she mentions the Democrat there, Tom Suozzi. I should note there's really no daylight between them on this issue. Tom Suozzi fully supports Israel. He went there in December, even appeared with Mazi at an event with the parents of an Israeli hostage taken on October 7 during this campaign.

FADEL: OK. So an issue they actually agree on. Tell us about Tom Suozzi. Why are Democrats banking on him?

BERGIN: So Suozzi actually used to represent this district in Congress for three terms before Santos. He opted not to run in 2022 and instead ran unsuccessfully for New York governor. He's been around politics for a really long time, about three decades, and his pitch to voters is that his experience will help him. He can work across the aisle to find solutions, and really, he's been campaigning all over the place during this race. And Pilip's made really limited appearances on the campaign trail, and that's left some voters scratching their heads, especially after Santos, because they say they want to know who they're voting for this time.

FADEL: OK. So you told us about the two candidates. They seem to agree on Israel, but what are other issues that they're focused on in this race where maybe there is daylight?

BERGIN: So national issues have really dominated the campaign, and particularly, the ongoing migrant crisis has been a top concern. Pilip blamed Suozzi for not doing more to address immigration while he served in Congress. And he says the only way to address the immigration issue is through a bipartisan solution like the one that came out of the U.S. Senate last week. And he's calling out Republicans for tanking it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM SUOZZI: How can it be that for a year, you've been saying the border, the border, the border, hair's on fire, the border. Terrorists are coming in. Fentanyl is coming in. There's problems. It's a problem. And it is a problem.

BERGIN: Pilip, like many other Republicans, has said that she opposed that deal not long after President Trump came out against it. And Suozzi says being unwilling to work across the aisle is also a major problem.

FADEL: So how much of a nail-biter is this going to be? I mean, how does this district usually vote?

BERGIN: Leila, this is a swing district. President Biden won it by eight points in 2020. But in the years since, Republicans have been picking up seats at all levels of government. They are going to be turning out their voters today. And I should note on top of that, we have a winter storm hitting the region today. Schools are remote, roads are a mess. So if you didn't already vote during early voting, it may not be that easy to get to polls today. So people are going to be watching this race very closely.

FADEL: That's Brigid Bergin from member station WNYC in New York reporting. Thank you so much.

BERGIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Brigid Bergin