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Where the rivals to succeed George Santos stand on aid to Israel

Despite the Democrats’ fundraising lead and stronger turnout in early voting, many predict a close race

Less than a week before the special election to replace expelled GOP Rep. George Santos, and with early voting already underway, the leading candidates both want the U.S. to send military aid to Israel — but disagree on the ways to send it.

The outcome of this swing district contest, where 13% of the electorate is Jewish, could help determine whether Republicans maintain their House majority. Both Democrat Tom Suozzi, who used to hold the seat, and Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip, an Ethiopian Israeli and Nassau County legislator, are claiming to be the better friend to Israel.

A new poll released on Thursday morning showed Suozzi with a 13-point lead over Pilip among Jewish voters.

Suozzi Wednesday seized upon Congressional Republicans’ failure to pass a stand-alone bill that would send $17.6 billion in military aid to Israel.

“This is life and death,” he said in a virtual press conference, referring to support for Israel’s military campaign against Hamas. “It sends the wrong message at the wrong time that the U.S. cannot get its act together to try and send the funding that Israel needs in this conflict.”

Both Suozzi and Pilip support the House stand-alone bill. But Suozzi — unlike Pilip — also backs a bipartisan Senate measure that includes funding for Ukraine and Taiwan and humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza, along with immigration reform.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has said the House will not consider the Senate bill. Pilip Monday said it’s a “nonstarter for me,” and added, “It simply puts into law the invasion currently happening at our southern border.”

Suozzi Wednesday called Pilip’s rejection of the Senate proposal a “partisan, hacky position” and charged that such refusals to engage with Democratic proposals lead “to the ruination of our country.”

Brian Devine, a spokesperson for the Pilip campaign, countered that Suozzi and President Joe Biden “are scrambling to blame others” for the nation’s crime, immigration, and drug problems.

A recent Emerson College poll of 975 district voters showed 60% support a U.S. military aid package to Israel. It also showed that immigration, the economy and crime — issues on which Republicans tend to perform strongly — are top of voters’ minds.

And a national survey of 1,000 registered voters released Wednesday showed that 58% — including 64% of Democrats — support the Senate’s border-foreign aid deal. The poll, commissioned by Blueprint — which is aligned with Democrats — and YouGov, also showed overall support for military aid to Israel at 62%, including a majority of independents and young voters. The web poll, conducted between Jan. 22 and 29, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

A tight race

Early voting numbers released Wednesday show stronger Democratic turnout: Of 31,000 ballots, Democrats cast 3,253 more than Republicans (though no actual election results will be released until the polls close on Tuesday.)

Suozzi has outraised Pilip by 3-1. And national Democratic groups have spent more than $9 million, compared with Republicans’ $6.2 million.

But fundraising total and early voting turnout aside, many watching this race expect it to be close. The Emerson College poll of the 3rd District, which includes neighborhoods in the eastern part of Long Island and in the New York City borough of Queens, showed the candidates neck and neck. It gives Suozzi a three-point lead over Pilip — 45-42% — with a 3.1% margin of error. 

Suozzi and Pilip, however, mostly agree on Israel.

Suozzi, who is not Jewish but has strong ties to the Jewish community, recently visited Israel and toured the areas near Gaza hard hit in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Pilip has touted her Israeli military service in campaign appearances and mailers, although she claimed on social media to be an “IDF paratrooper” when she actually served as a gunsmith in a paratrooper division. 

A Newsday/Siena College poll of 694 voters showed that Jewish voters are equally divided (45-45) on who would do a better job with establishing U.S. policy towards the Israel-Hamas war.

The two appeared together last week at a rally to call for the release of the 136 Israeli hostages held in Gaza. They will hold their only debate Thursday at 8:30 p.m..

This post was updated to include the new Siena Research poll. 

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