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Democrats cheer New York win as good omen for November. But is it enough to calm anxiety over Biden?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s winning back his Long Island House seat could provide a blueprint for Democrat Joe Biden ‘s reelection campaign heading into November, demonstrating his party’s strength in competitive suburban territory that also happened to be where Donald Trump grew up.

But the good news followed several rough days for the White House, which watched House Republicans vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday. That followed a special counsel’s conclusion that characterized Biden’s memory as “faulty,” “poor” and having “significant limitations,” though also saying charges weren’t warranted against the president for mishandling classified documents.

So how far Suozzi’s win will go to calm Democrats’ anxiety about the president’s age and low approval ratings is hardly clear.

The Democratic former congressman’s emphatic victory came in a special election where heavy snowfall may have affected turnout and with nearly nine months still to go in the presidential race. He made immigration a centerpiece of his campaign, playing political hardball with an issue that had helped the GOP win in previous cycles.

He also called Biden “old.”

Suozzi easily topped Mazi Pilip to replace expelled former Republican New York Rep. George Santos, narrowing the GOP House majority to 219-213. The district backed Biden by 8 points in 2020 but voted for Santos during 2022’s midterm election — when Republicans fared better across New York than expected by campaigning on getting tough on immigration and combating crime rates that had risen in some areas.

After Santos’ ouster, the special election to replace him was seen as a dead-heat — though Suozzi was the more familiar figure. He won the seat in 2016 and was reelected twice before retiring in 2020 and losing in the Democratic primary to incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul.

A surge of migrants arriving to large, Democrat-run cities, including New York, has turned security along the U.S.-Mexico border into an especially tricky issue for Biden’s party across the country. Queens is home to one of New York City’s few large-scale tent housing facilities for migrants — and yet Suozzi took the issue head on.

“This is the template for Democrats everywhere because you could not imagine a district that could have been more hostile to what the stereotype of a Democrat is,” said Lis Smith, a national Democratic strategist and advisor to Suozzi’s campaign. “You just need to go on offense and say, ‘I’m the one who wants to secure the border. It’s the Republicans who want chaos at the border.'”

That’s “a very easy message that can be adopted by Democrats across the country,” Smith said.

During the campaign, Suozzi spoke often about strengthening immigration policy, and said he would support a temporary closure of the U.S.-Mexico border to slow the influx of migrants, echoing Biden’s recent willingness to do the same. Last month, Suozzi rushed to Queens’ tent migrant housing area for a rebuttal news conference directly after Pilip held an event there seeking to link him to federal immigration policy.

Souzzi was a vocal supporter of a bipartisan Senate deal on immigration that Republicans turned against after Trump, the former president and current Republican presidential primary front-runner, urged them to do so. Souzzi even began his victory speech by scoffing at being attacked as “the godfather of the migrant crisis” and “sanctuary Souzzi.”

That resonated with Lois Clinco, 59, who said she voted for Suozzi because she hopes he can “keep the migrants out, because we’re overpopulated now.”

Still, Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University, cautioned against extrapolating Suozzi’s win, noting the snowstorm and a short runup to the special election which also had unique, Santos-related contours.

“If I were a Democratic consultant or strategist, I would be taking a huge grain of salt before I base my playbook on this election,” Reeher said.

Biden’s reelection campaign noted that Democrats have racked up a series of special election and off-year legislative victories since he took office. It also said that more immigrants had arrived to Queens County in the last year than in all of Chicago — emphasizing how important the issue was to Suozzi’s win.

White House, spokesman Andrew Bates called Tuesday’s result “a devastating repudiation of congressional Republicans.”

“Tom Suozzi put support for the bipartisan border legislation – and congressional Republicans’ killing of it for politics – at the forefront of his case,” Bates said in a statement. “The results are unmistakable.”

Despite years of Trump stressing a law-and-order message, Republicans have seen their support slip in many suburban areas as the former president has solidified his hold on the national GOP. Still, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson shrugged off larger implications of Tuesday’s race for his party.

“The result last night is not something, in my view, that Democrats should celebrate too much,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday, adding that Suozzi “ran like a Republican, he sounded like a Republican talking about border and immigration because that’s the top issue on the hearts and minds of everybody.”

But Suozzi also promoted defending abortion rights, echoing a message Democrats have used around the country since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion. New York will have a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to bar discrimination based on “pregnancy outcomes.” Despite not explicitly guaranteeing the right to an abortion, supporters argue the measure will further protect access to the procedure, and Democrats see it as a way to drive turnout.

Suozzi’s victory could also be viewed as a personal slap for Trump since the former president’s childhood home was in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens. Still, Trump advisors blamed Pilip’s defeat on her not embracing the “Make America Great Again” movement more closely.

New York Republican chair Ed Cox said the party isn’t abandoning its winning issues and would defeat Suozzi when he’s up for reelection in November. That’s when, he said, “the campaign resets to focus on Joe Biden and Democrats’ disastrous open-borders, soft-on-crime policies, rather than the specific circumstances that brought about this special election.”

But Suozzi didn’t exactly embrace Biden. He even said during a television interview, “The bottom line is he’s old.” Suozzi also suggested that he didn’t think it would be helpful to have Biden campaign alongside him for this race.

“If I were advising him,” Reeher said of the president, “I would have a big red headline on top that says ‘consider this race with caution, there are a number of things here that may not apply to you.’”

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Izaguirre reported from Lindenhurst, New York.

Anthony Izaguirre And Will Weissert, The Associated Press


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