Mazi Pilip’s Defeat at New York’s Third District Is a Wake-Up Call for Republicans

The challenges facing President Biden over the economy, the border, and foreign policy simply aren’t weakening down-ballot Democrats as expected.

AP/ Brittainy Newman & John Minchillo, file
Congressional candidates, Mazi Pilip, left, and Representative Tom Suozzi. AP/ Brittainy Newman & John Minchillo, file

The result of Tuesday’s special election for New York’s Third Congressional District has some serious lessons for Republicans to consider. On paper, Republicans should have won.

President Biden carried the district by 8 points in 2020, but Republican Lee Zeldin carried it by 10 points in the 2022 governor’s race. Mr. Biden’s unfavorable ratings are even higher this year. He was no doubt a potential liability in the special election.

Rising crime in New York City, coupled with chaos from Mayor Adams’ unpopular, destructive illegal immigrant housing policies should have set the stage for a Republican victory.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Republican nominee was intriguing. Mazi Pilip was born in Ethiopia and reached Israel as a child. She became a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Force, legally immigrated to the United States, and has served on the Nassau County Legislature (after defeating a Democrat incumbent).

However, Congressman Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, won a fourth term for the seat. He had previously served six years and gave up the seat in 2022 to pursue a failed gubernatorial bid.

The Democrats had two huge advantages. First, Mr. Suozzi had virtually 100 percent name recognition. His long service in Congress (and earlier as mayor of Glen Cove) made him familiar to voters.

Second, the Democrats outspent Republicans in advertising about $13.8 million to $8.1 million. So, the better-known candidate widened his advantage with paid media.

Further, the Republican National Committee’s “Bank the Vote” project clearly did not work. Preliminary figures show there were 30,000 Democrat early voters and 23,000 Republicans or Conservatives early voters. New York’s Conservative Party normally backs Republicans.

The importance of early voting was compounded by the snowstorm on Election Day, which no doubt reduced voter turnout — precisely when Republicans have their biggest advantage.

So, Republicans should learn lessons from this election – but they should not despair. As one analyst wrote me in an email: “My immediate lessons are… the Dems had to spend $15 million to win a Biden +8 [district] with a 3-term incumbent who had complete name ID and a defined moderate image.”

As a Republican congressman, Nick LaLota, put it in the Washington Times: “If nothing else, we saw that Tom Suozzi shifted his campaign in the last two or three weeks. He spent millions of dollars talking about the border. Finally, the Democrat Party is willing to acknowledge there is a border problem.”

A Democrat observer reinforced Mr. LaLota’s observation in an email to me: “For me as a Democrat the lessons are clear. Run away from the national party on immigration, crime, the border, spending, and taxation. Use abortion as a validator for swing voters, as Republicans do not have an answer.”

A senior Conservative activist also wrote me: “Snow depressed Republican votes in Nassau.” The activist also observed that Ms. Pilip had said “she would not vote for Trump if he was convicted” and did not “embrace the Trump agenda.” In 2022, the activist noted, Congressman George Santos received 145,824 votes, while Ms. Pilip on Tuesday “got 80,000,” suggesting that a “lot of MAGA Republicans stayed home.”

It is also important to note that Republicans lost another special election Tuesday for the Pennsylvania House in Bucks County. Democrats have now won five of the last six special elections over the last year. The challenges facing Mr. Biden over the economy, the border, and foreign policy simply aren’t weakening down-ballot Democrats as expected.

Republicans must learn that they won’t automatically win elections based on anti-Biden sentiment — or a handful of negative issues. They must develop a clear, understandable positive agenda that will improve people’s lives and offer hope for a better American future.

As one moderate Democrat wrote me: “As someone who believes fundamental political change is necessary, there needs to be a coherent Republican agenda … paired with an unrelenting attacks on Biden, the failed economic policies, and the degradation of the country socially, culturally, and of course economically – along with decline in the world that puts us at risk.”

In our news media, it is always harder to communicate a positive message than a negative one. So, Republicans need to spend at least 70 percent of their time offering a better future. Reality and the daily news will communicate plenty of the negativity for them.

A positive Republican agenda, in the spirit of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” and the Contract with America, will offer an alternative that can turn reasonable elections into landslide victories. Otherwise, Republicans will see more repeats of Tuesday’s election.

The New York Sun

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