Dec 1, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Democrats spot political opportunity in Santos expulsion

Rep. George Santos. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

Democrats are looking to the expulsion of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) on Friday as a chance to not only flip a highly competitive House seat, but get a political boost ahead of 2024.

Why it matters: Even as more than 100 Republicans voted to kick Santos out of Congress, a majority of the party voted against expulsion, including most of GOP leadership.

State of play: Santos' removal spurs a special election to fill his seat that could happen in a matter of months, with the nominees chosen by county party leaders.

  • Democrats may select former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who represented the seat from 2017 to 2023 and previously beat Santos in 2020. Former state Sen. Anna Kaplan is another potential candidate.
  • Republicans have several prospective candidates including state Sen. Jack Martins and Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip.

What they're saying: Democrats are already signaling plans to spend heavily to win back the district, which went for President Biden by 8 percentage points in 2020.

  • House Majority PAC President Mike Smith said the Democratic super PAC "plans to play a significant role in the NY-03 special election, and we will do whatever it takes to flip this district blue."
  • "House Democrats are ready to get to work and take back this seat," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan Delbene (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

What they're saying: Some Democrats cast the vote as having political ramifications beyond New York, arguing House Speaker Mike Johnson's (R-La.) opposition to expulsion will damage his image.

  • "I think that the speaker made a big mistake by trying to protect him," said swing-district Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio). "I think it's going to be a big problem for him and his credibility."
  • Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), another swing district member, said leadership's opposition was "disrespectful" to the vulnerable New York Republicans who pushed strongly to remove Santos.
  • "I think Democrats will win the next election, there's absolutely no question about it," said former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), adding of Republican leadership: "They just keep making matters worse for themselves."

Zoom in: Some Democratic campaigns sent out fundraising appeals about Santos' expulsion shortly after it happened.

  • The DCCC sent out an email focused on retaking Santos' seat, saying "we need to move NOW ... George Santos only won this seat by roughly 25,400 votes — so this special will be competitive… and EXPENSIVE."
  • Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), who is running for Senate, sent a fundraising appeal asking donors to "split a donation right now between my campaign and the NY-03 Special Election Nominee Fund to help Democrats flip Santos's seat blue[.]"

The intrigue: While most members of Republican leadership voted against expulsion, National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) voted for it.

The other side: Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) argued that he and other New Yorkers will be rewarded politically "now that we've ... dealt with Santos in a manner in which the public expected."

  • "I think members like me and [Andrew] Garbarino, [Anthony] D'Esposito, [Mike] Lawler, [Marc] Molinaro, will be credited by our voters for having done the right thing," LaLota said.
  • He added, "If 12 months from now, they want to use George Santos ... in some random race in the middle of the country, I don't know if that's going to be a winning strategy for them."
Go deeper