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Big NY-3 Win Brings Democrats Ever Closer in the House


— Rep.-elect Tom Suozzi (D, NY-3) begins the November general election as a favorite in our ratings following his impressive special election win.

— Republicans who hoped that immigration would be a superweapon for them in 2024 cannot really point to NY-3 as a validation of that belief.

— Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R, NY-4) in a bluer neighboring Nassau County-based seat now looks like an outright underdog for the fall, but we’ll reserve a rating change there until after New York’s redistricting situation is settled.

— Following our two-part House update from last week, we had some additional observations about the competitive map.

Table 1: Crystal Ball House rating change

District Old Rating New Rating
Tom Suozzi (D, NY-3) Toss-up Leans Democratic

Suozzi’s big victory

Rep.-elect Tom Suozzi’s (D) impressive victory in NY-3 should, like all special elections, be kept in context: Special elections can be influenced by unique local factors, and they are often not predictive of the future. Democrats have been doing well in these races, generally speaking, since the Dobbs decision in 2022, and a much bigger November electorate will be different and quite possibly less friendly.

That said, Democrats needed a shot in the arm following gloomy polling and questions about President Biden that were exacerbated by a classic “feeding frenzy”—to borrow a phrase coined by our Editor in Chief, Larry Sabato—over a special counsel report that contributed to preexisting doubts about Biden’s age. They got it. And, crucially, Democrats have an extra seat in the House, a seat they should be able to hold in November, when they now need to win only four additional seats beyond what they hold now at full strength in order to win the House majority. That is a doable task—even if the presidential race gets away from them. In this race, it appears that Suozzi will roughly match Biden’s 2020 8-point margin in this district. That is a strong showing for Democrats in a place many believe is trending away from them.

Turnout in the NY-3 special was about 170,000 based on reporting Wednesday morning, with probably some small number of votes outstanding. Back in 2022, about 270,000 votes were cast in the congressional race, so this turnout was a little under two-thirds of that total. That turnout for a February special strikes us as relatively decent although certainly not overwhelming. Just as a point of comparison, the last major New York special House election—the old version of the Hudson Valley’s NY-19 in August 2022—saw a turnout of about 130,000 voters, which was less than half of the turnout from the 2018 midterm (which featured higher overall New York turnout than 2022—we can’t compare that NY-19 special to the 2022 midterm because the district lines were redrawn). Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux keeps a running tally of special House elections going back decades—you’ll see that in terms of total votes cast, NY-3 was reasonably high for a standalone special not held in conjunction with another election. However, some other famous special elections of recent vintage—like the Democratic win in PA-18 in March 2018, the Republican win in OH-12 later that year in August, and a 2018 do-over election in September 2019 won by Republicans in NC-9—all saw clearly higher raw vote totals than this election. A snowstorm on the morning of Election Day may have reduced turnout in NY-3, perhaps aiding Democrats who disproportionately banked their votes by voting early or by mail (which is of course the point of having those options in the first place—people can vote in advance and thus avoid some Election Day curveball, weather or otherwise, from keeping them from the polls). It appeared that the weather got better as the day progressed and polls in New York don’t close until 9 p.m., so the storm may not have actually had that much effect.

Democrats did have some key advantages in this race. Collectively, Suozzi and his Democratic allies outspent Pilip by a roughly $13.5 million to $8 million spread, according to AdImpact. The Republican ad spending came later on in the campaign—indeed, the late-breaking investments by GOP outside groups contributed to the belief, shared by both parties and many analysts, that the race was close and hard to call. Suozzi has been involved in local politics for decades and recently represented the old version of this seat prior to a quixotic gubernatorial bid in 2022. He ran a better-funded and more spirited race than local legislator Mazi Pilip (R).

The fairly impressive victory by Suozzi also could be seen as a broader test case for Democrats in fending off Republican attacks on immigration. Suozzi, to his credit, used his own advertising to defend himself from attacks on the issue, suggesting a path for other Democratic campaigns in the fall. In the leadup to this election, Republicans were salivating over President Biden’s horrible approval rating on immigration and the prospect of it being a giant weapon in this and future elections. It was not that kind of weapon in NY-3, and congressional Republicans’ decision to not even attempt to pass a border security package negotiated by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate gives Democrats some ammo on this issue, too.

There is an old saying that “Good government is good politics,” although the way the Republicans are handling immigration is essentially “Bad government is good politics.” That actually makes some cold-blooded political sense because the party that does not hold the White House has an incentive to make the president look as bad as possible. But Republicans do hold the House majority, so they have a seat at the table in policymaking, and Suozzi attacked Pilip and Republicans more broadly for not backing the bipartisan border legislation. It’s impossible to know exactly what effect this had—perhaps a lot, perhaps not much at all—but it’s hard to come out of this election and say that the Republicans are wielding a political superweapon on immigration (had Pilip won, there would have been widespread belief that they in fact did have such a weapon).

This result also makes the Democrats’ horrible 2022 showing in New York look like a little bit more of a fluke that will be harder to replicate in an environment less GOP-leaning than 2022 was (at least in New York). This has consequences for the other House district that covers Nassau County, NY-4, which Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R, NY-4) won in November. NY-4 is, by presidential partisanship, the most Democratic seat held by any Republican, at Biden +14.5 points. After tonight, D’Esposito should probably be looked at as an outright underdog, but there’s one thing that’s holding us back from just moving him from Toss-up to Leans Democratic: redistricting.

The state’s redistricting commission is poised to vote on a new congressional map proposal tomorrow, after the state’s highest court reopened the redistricting process in a victory for Democrats. Democrats in the state legislature may eventually get a crack at a new gerrymander, and we’re hesitant to change any ratings before that happens, beyond giving Suozzi the benefit of the doubt as a Leans Democratic incumbent following his victory. We find it hard to imagine Suozzi would get a worse district than the one he just won, and we also suspect that D’Esposito’s district won’t change much—in which case we are very likely going to move his seat to Leans Democratic. Democrats do not necessarily need a new gerrymander in New York to win back several seats there, and it may be that the redistricting process results in a compromise map that marginally improves the Democrats’ overall position.

With NY-3 now a Leans Democratic district, we have 212 seats rated as Safe, Likely, or Leaning Republican, 204 Safe/Likely/Leaning Democratic, and 19 Toss-ups. We suspect the new map in New York will prompt additional changes that are positive for Democrats—we have already telegraphed one, in NY-4—and that would bring our House ratings further in line with our overall assessment of the House: a true coin flip.

A few other notes on the House

We devoted two issues to the race for the House last week. Part one looked at ticket-splitting in the House, specifically in the 2016 and 2020 presidential election cycles, and part two described some rating changes. We had a few other observations about the House that didn’t make it into those two reports but that we still wanted to share:

— Our recent rating changes that moved Reps. Don Bacon (R, NE-2) and Jared Golden (D, ME-2) into the Toss-up column means that an even greater number of “crossover” House members—those who hold districts that the other party won for president—are in the Toss-up category.

— On the Democratic side, 3 of the 5 Trump-district Democrats are now in Toss-up: Golden as well as Rep. Matt Cartwright (D, PA-8) in northeast Pennsylvania and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D, WA-3) in a district that includes part of the Portland, OR metro area. Meanwhile, Reps. Mary Peltola (D, AK-AL) and Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9) in the Toledo area remain in Leans Democratic. Kaptur dominated J.R. Majewski (R) in a 2022 contest, and Majewski is running again; if Majewski loses the primary, the race could more easily end up as a Toss-up. Peltola, meanwhile, still boasts good favorability numbers in her statewide seat, but her numbers have been slightly declining over time in state pollster Ivan Moore’s surveys. Republicans are excited by Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom (R) as their candidate, but Alaska’s quirky top-4 voting system could aid Peltola as 2022 candidate Nick Begich (R) is still in the race. Dahlstrom’s 2023 fourth quarter fundraising, roughly $200,000, wasn’t that great either, particularly because Peltola raised over $1.1 million over the last quarter (although Dahlstrom only entered the race in the middle of the quarter, and she has time to pick up the pace). National Republicans basically gave up on these two races in 2022 but seem eager to more fully engage this cycle, which makes sense in a presidential year in districts that will (Alaska) and likely will (OH-9) vote Republican for president again.

— While there are only five Democrats in Trump seats—excluding three redrawn Democratic-held seats in North Carolina where redistricting turned Biden seats into Trump districts and prompted the Democratic incumbents to not seek reelection—there are a number of marginal Biden-won districts in our Toss-up column. These include two open seats in Michigan, Lansing-based MI-7 (Biden +0.5) and Flint-centric MI-8 (Biden +2); Rep. Susan Wild’s (D) Lehigh Valley-based PA-7 (Biden +0.6); Rep. Emilia Sykes’s (D) Akron/Canton district OH-13 (Biden +2.8); and Rep. Don Davis’s (D) redrawn NC-1 in northeastern North Carolina (Biden +1.7). Hypothetically, if the national popular vote in the presidential race is more like a tie than Biden’s +4.5 2020 margin, all of these districts could vote Republican for president, which would force Democrats to run ahead of the top of the ticket to hold them (which they very well may be able to do, to at least some extent, and Republican candidates generally have a fair amount to prove in this group of districts).

— Suozzi’s victory reduces the number of Republican-held Biden-won seats from 18 to 17, a tally that also excludes a pair of redrawn Republican-held districts in Alabama and Louisiana that flipped from Trump seats to Biden seats and are likely to flip to Democrats this year. Of those 17, 10 are in the Toss-up column: Four in New York and three in California, as well as Rep. David Schweikert’s (R) AZ-1, Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer’s (R) Portland-to-Bend OR-5, and Bacon’s aforementioned NE-2 in Omaha. Of these, Schweikert’s would realistically be the most gettable for Trump, given that Biden’s margin there was just 1.5 points. Biden’s margin was better than his national margin in the other nine. New York’s looming redistricting of course could scramble the numbers in at least some of the districts there.

— One GOP-held district that seems a little more interesting than it was before is IA-3, a narrow Trump +0.3 Des Moines-based district that Rep. Zach Nunn (R) narrowly flipped last year. For much of 2023, the district seemed like a recruiting hole for Democrats, but Lanon Baccam, a veteran and former U.S. Department of Agriculture official and Biden campaign staffer, entered the race in November and turned in a solid initial fundraising quarter, outraising Nunn $507,000 to $426,000 (although Nunn still has a huge 3.5-to-1 cash on hand edge). This remains a Leans Republican seat in our ratings.

— If Baccam had a strong quarter, a Democratic challenger closer to our home base did not. Democrats have been excited by veteran Missy Cotter Smasal’s candidacy in the Virginia Beach-based VA-2, a competitive Biden +1.9 seat that Rep. Jen Kiggans (R) flipped last cycle. But Cotter Smasal only raised a little over $100,000, and Kiggans is sitting on a $1.5 million warchest. Democrats argue that congressional fundraising can get a bit later of a start in Virginia given a donor focus on odd-numbered year state-level elections, and there may be some truth to that from history. For instance, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D, VA-7), who is leaving the House this year in advance of a 2025 gubernatorial run, only raised $140,000 in 2017’s fourth quarter before later becoming a fundraising machine. Cotter Smasal was just endorsed by EMILYs List, which could help jumpstart her fundraising, although another Democrat, attorney Jake Denton, recently entered the race. For now, Kiggans looks like one of the better-positioned Biden-district Republicans (her race remains rated Leans Republican). This is another marginal Biden-won seat that could vote Republican for president in 2024. (Presidential district-level numbers and fundraising tallies cited in this article come courtesy of our friends at Daily Kos Elections.)