NY Snowstorm Could Shape Critical Election to Replace George Santos

The race has been dominated by an international migrant crisis and attracted $15 million in outside spending. But the special House election to replace George Santos in New York on Tuesday may come down to the most local of problems: an ill-timed Election Day snowstorm.

Forecasters were calling for a half foot or more of wet snow to blanket parts of the Queens and Long Island district, with much of it falling during prime voting hours. Local leaders warned drivers to stay off the roads.

The wintry mess left polling places eerily quiet on Tuesday morning, and both parties racing to rewrite last-minute campaign plans. With the result expected to be exceedingly close, the most useful tools were suddenly old-fashioned shovels and snow plows — which wary Democrats feared would be used by Nassau County Republicans to their voters’ advantage.

“For partisans on both sides who believe in divine intervention, the weather will decide whether God is a Democrat or Republican,” Steve Israel, a former Democratic congressman from the district, quipped before the flakes started falling.

“And whether he votes in special elections,” he added.

Democrats have pinned tremendous hope on the district, an affluent and mostly suburban area that voted for President Biden by eight points in 2020 before flipping to Mr. Santos and the Republicans two years later.

The party has outspent Republicans more than two to one and nominated a three-decade political veteran, Tom Suozzi. A former congressman who held the seat himself, Mr. Suozzi promised to return normalcy to the district after the expulsion of Mr. Santos, a serial liar facing 23 federal criminal counts.

But Mr. Suozzi’s campaign has faced stiff headwinds from suburban voters who have soured on Mr. Biden and particularly his handling of the migrant crisis at the border and in New York City.

On Tuesday, Mr. Suozzi laced on snow boots to greet United Parcel Service workers on a shift change, and planned a lunchtime appearance to try to fire up canvassers attempting to lure Democrats to the polls.

His opponent, Mazi Pilip, was scheduled to shake hands with voters outside an elementary school in Massapequa. School was canceled but the polling site was still open.

Ms. Pilip, a Republican county legislator, has run a relatively low-key campaign, attacking Mr. Suozzi as a proponent of open borders while defending herself against attacks from Democrats who say she would be a threat to abortion rights.

Democrats entered Election Day with a theoretical edge based on early and absentee voting, a potentially dangerous position for Republicans if turnout plummets on Tuesday.

About 80,000 people had already cast ballots through Sunday, when the early voting period ended, a robust turnout for an off-cycle election. About 11,000 more registered Democrats cast ballots than registered Republicans, according to Democratic leaders. Mr. Suozzi’s advantage could well be narrower depending on how many voters are breaking with their party and on the breakdown of independent votes.

“I’d rather be us than them,” Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic Party chairman, said.

But many Republican voters still prefer to vote on Election Day, and their party is accustomed to closing a gap. The party has won nearly every major election on Long Island since 2021, partly on the strength of its turnout operation.

Peter T. King, a former Republican congressman, conceded that the snow could cost his party a couple of percentage points. Still, he predicted that the recently revived Nassau County Republican machine was up to the task.

Mr. King said party committeemen were already making arrangements to help drive older people who needed help to get to the polls. Mr. Suozzi’s campaign was making a similar offer: “❄️Need a ride to the polls?❄️,” he wrote on X, with a link to a homespun taxi service.

“It’s a hell of a thing — we haven’t had a real snowstorm in a long time,” he said on Monday. “This one seems to be singling out just voting hours!”

Forecasts called for the heaviest snow to begin clearing east to west in the afternoon. But by noon Tuesday, only 2,884 people had voted in the Queens portion of the district, according to the New York City Board of Elections. The numbers in Nassau County were expected to be a bit higher given its greater share of voters, though there was little evidence of that early Tuesday.

In Great Neck, Ms. Pilip’s home base, only about 10 voters arrived in an hour at the Great Neck House poll site.

“I’m here to make a difference,” said one of them, Farhad Yaghoubian, 68, who works in construction. He said he voted for Ms. Pilip because of her support for Israel.

Walter Tomkiw, an 81-year-old retired accountant, braved the weather a few miles way in Mineola. He cast a ballot for Mr. Suozzi and called the race “probably the most important election I have ever voted in.”

“We’re at a crossroads in this country,” he said, explaining that he viewed Republicans as a threat to American democratic norms. “If Suozzi loses this, Joe Biden is going to be in hot water.”

This being Long Island, a suburban expanse where politics and public works have a history of mixing, Democrats were suspicious that Republicans who control the Nassau County government and each of its three townships might selectively clear paths for their voters.

“Of course we’re worried about where they plow the roads,” Mr. Jacobs said.

Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, the Democratic minority leader of the Nassau County Legislature, took it upon herself to write letters on Monday warning Bruce Blakeman, the county’s Republican executive, and others not to cut county employees loose on “snow days” so they could help the campaign effort.

Mr. Blakeman shot back that he was “personally offended” that Democrats would question his administration’s integrity, and vowed to clear the streets equitably.

“I have directly told everyone involved that no community shall be favored and that they should do their work according to their usual practices, except to start earlier,” Mr. Blakeman wrote.

Ellen Yan contributed reporting from Mineola, N.Y., and Nate Schweber from Great Neck.

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