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New York Democrat Tom Suozzi will succeed ex-GOP Rep. George Santos

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Democrats picked up a seat in the House of Representatives. Tom Suozzi is the Democrat in question. He prevailed in New York's special election to replace Republican Congressman George Santos, who was indicted and expelled. Suozzi spoke with supporters last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM SUOZZI: It's time to move beyond the petty partisan bickering and the finger-pointing. It's time to focus on how to solve the problems.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh has been covering this race, talking to voters in New York. Good morning.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you hear from people as you moved around?

WALSH: I mean, border security was really the big issue that voters told me they were focused on. It's an issue Republicans thought could put Democrats in this race on defense. But Suozzi really leaned into the issue. He talked about it a lot. A lot of his ads talked about the need to address the border crisis. This New York district includes part of Queens, part of Nassau County, areas that are home to a lot of people who commute into downtown New York City.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

WALSH: Voters and Suozzi talked about the impact that the migrant crisis - so many migrants have been bused from Texas to New York - has had on the local economy there. Suozzi is a former House Democrat who served three terms. He used rhetoric that sounded pretty conservative for a Democratic candidate on immigration. He argued - he also argued the only way to fix any broken immigration system was to work across the aisle with Republicans. He hugged the Senate bipartisan border bill that Republicans derailed, and he really criticized his opponent, Mazi Pilip, for opposing that bill.

INSKEEP: OK, so Suozzi wins. Let's talk about the effects first on the immediate situation in the House of Representatives.

WALSH: Right. Well, House Speaker Mike Johnson's razor-thin majority just got skinnier. He's down to just a two-vote majority if all members show up to vote. In terms of passing legislation, House Republicans' own agenda has just really been stalled because of divisions inside their own ranks. They've had to rely on Democrats to pass sort of basic things to govern, like avoiding a government shutdown. That's not going to change.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about the next larger effect. Of course, this is an early election in an election year where every House seat will eventually be up for election. Does this affect the way that Democrats and Republicans will approach other districts?

WALSH: It could. I mean, both parties spent a lot of money - more than $20 million combined - to try to use and test messages here to talk about their own narrative going into November. One thing the results showed is that a Democrat sort of taking on the border issue, an issue that's traditionally been strong for Republicans, can try to flip the script. We saw Suozzi hammer Republicans for failing to act on the border and playing politics with the issue. Here's Suozzi talking about that strategy last night.

(SOUINDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUOZZI: Are we going to keep on working until we hold politicians accountable, when they just try to use issues for weaponization to try and destroy the other guys instead of actually solving the problems to make people's lives better?

INSKEEP: OK, so that is going to raise one more question - is this election some kind of predictor for what will happen in November?

WALSH: I mean, I think sometimes we overblow the impact of special elections. Democrats are arguing it will. Republicans say this was a seat that Biden won in 2020. But, you know, this can give hints about voters, especially moderate suburban voters, are thinking about the big issues right now. There were some Democratic factors at in this district in New York that make it different than other swing seats. There are significant number of Asian American voters in this district, Jewish voters. It's also a district with one of the highest cost of living in the country. But because border security was such a big issue from both sides, I do think this race could really shape how candidates in both parties talk about the issue this fall.

INSKEEP: Deirdre, I'm glad you got out there and talked to the voters themselves. I appreciate your insights.

WALSH: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.