The race is already on for Santos’ New York seat as Hochul prepares to announce special election date

Dec 1, 2023, 3:00 PM

FILE - U.S. Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., holds a miniature American flag that was presented to him a...

FILE - U.S. Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., holds a miniature American flag that was presented to him as he departs federal court, Friday, June 30, 2023, in Central Islip, N.Y. Sam Miele, a former political fundraiser for Santos, was arrested Wednesday, Aug. 16, on federal charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft as part of an alleged scheme to trick donors into giving money to Santos under a false name. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

(CNN) — George Santos is gone from Congress, but his disastrous tenure will not be forgotten by party leaders as they prepare for what is expected to be a fiercely contested and expensive special election to replace him in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

Voters will not have a say in choosing the nominees; under New York’s special election rules, they will be selected by the county party leaders. The contest is expected to be slated for late February, with details to come from the office of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is charged by law with setting the dates.

Covering parts of Queens and Nassau counties, the district had been represented by Democrats for a decade before Santos’ surprising victory in 2022. The seat became open after former Rep. Tom Suozzi’s decided to challenge Hochul in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Suozzi lost that race badly, but is now running for his old job and is now considered the favorite for the Democratic nomination for the special election. Republicans have a longer list of potential candidates to consider, with more than 20 people likely to be granted interviews, according to Nassau County GOP spokesman Mike Deery.

The special election in what is now a battleground district is already being discussed as a key bellwether ahead of the November general election. That it will take place during a key stretch of the Republican presidential primary is not expected to dampen spending or interest, given New York’s crucial role in determining the fate of the GOP’s slender House majority. The largest House Democratic super PAC has already announced plans to spend big on the race.

“House Majority PAC plans to play a significant role in the NY-03 special election,” Mike Smith, its president, told CNN. “We will do whatever it takes to flip this district blue.”

Santos was one of four Republicans in and around New York City to flip traditionally blue seats in 2022. But the backlash to his many scandals could endanger Republican momentum, which began building during local elections in 2021. All five GOP House members in districts near or neighboring the 3rd voted on Friday to expel Santos.

Hours after Santos became the third member to kicked out of office by his colleagues since the Civil War, Nassau County Republicans told CNN they were already lining up a replacement.

“We’re conducting interviews already and will continue to on Monday or Tuesday,” Deery said. “We expect to have an announcement towards the end of week.”

State Sen. Jack Martins, Nassau County lawmaker Mazi Pilip, war veteran Kellen Curry and Mike Sapraicone, a retired New York Police Department detective, are believed to be the favorites to get the nod.

On the Democratic side, Suozzi, who served three terms in the seat after eight years as Nassau County executive, is widely expected to be nominated by party leaders, multiple sources told CNN. But he’s no shoo-in, New York state Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs told CNN.

The decision will be made by a committee of the county chairs with voters in the district, according to state party bylaws. In this case, those people are Jacobs, who also runs the Nassau County Democrats, and Rep. Gregory Meeks, the Queens County Democratic Party chairman. Jacobs said that Hochul and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, will also be consulted.

He acknowledged that Suozzi’s decision to challenge Hochul in 2022, after she took over the job following former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, did not sit well with some powerful Democrats – himself included.

“That is certainly not something that is a plus for me,” Jacobs said of his thought process regarding Suozzi and the nomination. “I happen to be friends with Tom, but I was very clear I didn’t want him running against the governor. And there were things in the campaign that I took issue with, publicly, that I didn’t agree with.”

But, he added, the decision “is not a disqualifier, by any means, as far as I’m concerned.”

Former New York state Sen. Anna Kaplan is also in the running and touted strong early fundraising numbers in a statement following Santos’ departure. Like Suozzi, she kicked off her campaign intending to challenge Santos next November. Both are expected to meet with party leaders on Friday.

No matter whom Democratic leaders choose to run in the special election, the party will hold a primary for the general election nomination.

For his part, Santos is not expected to play any role in the coming campaigns.

“It’s over,” he told CNN after the vote. “To hell with this place.”

And with that, he disappeared into a car and, per his own comments on Thursday, plans to pack up over the weekend and leave Washington soon.

The race to replace him, though, is poised to go on for much longer.

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The race is already on for Santos’ New York seat as Hochul prepares to announce special election date