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New York is a key state for House Republicans if they are to keep their majority in 2024, a reality underscored by Rep. George Santos’s (R-N.Y.) expulsion Friday.
Republicans lost a seat with Santos’s expulsion, and his district is likely to be a toss-up in the fall. Several other New York Republicans are in toss-up races, signaling just how much is at stake in the Empire State.
“New York is the absolute epicenter of the fight for the House majority,” New York Democratic strategist Jon Reinish said. “It will very likely be determined in New York.”
The key Republicans that the House GOP are relying upon to win include Reps. Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro, Anthony D’Esposito and Brandon Williams. All of them face competitive races.
“It’s always tough being a Republican in New York, unless you’re in a district that Elise Stefanik has,” said New York Republican strategist Tom Doherty, referring to the New York Republican’s rural, more comfortably red 21st Congressional District.
Democrats rode to victory in the 2022 midterm elections on backlash to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and former President Trump’s false claims of the 2020 election being stolen.
The party was able to keep a majority in the Senate and only narrowly lost control of the House. Republicans now only have a 221-213 majority in the lower chamber without Santos.
New York was one of the glaring — and most surprising — exceptions to Democrats’ success in the midterms, with Republicans picking up four seats in the state.
Those pickups were ultimately key to the GOP winning control of the House. They also represent four of the 18 districts that currently have a Republican representative in the House but voted for President Biden over former President Trump in 2020.
New York and California, both reliably blue states on the national level, have more Biden-district Republicans than any other state.
That alone presents a challenge for these Republicans running in 2024, as their success would likely depend on voters splitting their tickets, a relatively uncommon phenomenon.
Republicans acknowledge the difficult objective facing the incumbents trying to hold their seats but express optimism at their chances based on their actions in office.
Doherty said congressmen such as Molinaro and Lawler have been moderate and are not “hardened.” He pointed to a statement Lawler made complimenting a potential political opponent, small-business owner Liz Whitmer Gereghty, after she dropped out of the Democratic primary for his seat Wednesday.
“I want to wish Liz Gereghty the best. Running for office is not for the faint of heart. While there is much we disagree on, I appreciate her willingness to put her name forward and get in the arena,” Lawler tweeted.
Doherty said Lawler’s statement “says a lot” about his character.
“That’s why independents will feel comfortable with Mike Lawler. That’s why he was able to win the election in the first place,” he said.
Lawler and several other potentially vulnerable House Republicans in the state were also among the most vocal in denouncing Santos and calling for him to resign or be expelled from Congress.
Lawrence Garvey, the chair of the Rockland County Republican Committee in New York, said he expects Democrats will attempt to use Santos to criticize Republicans in key districts in 2024. However, he pointed out that Democrats also have the controversy surrounding Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).
Santos originally faced controversy shortly after his election, upon the revelation that he made many false statements about his personal, educational and professional background. He has been charged with 23 felony counts related to alleged campaign finance and other violations.
Menendez, meanwhile, was indicted in September following allegations that he and his wife accepted bribes in exchange for favors to a group of businessmen. He has denied the allegations and refused to resign despite calls to do so from many Democrats.
“This goes both ways,” Garvey said.
With Santos out, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) is responsible for calling a special election to fill the seat within 10 days of the vacancy, to be held 70 to 80 days later. The district voted for Biden by about 8 points, so it could be a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats to further narrow the GOP majority.
But a Democratic “victory celebration” would be “highly premature,” former Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) said, noting that both parties will strongly contest the election and that Republicans have performed well in the district in the past four years. He said he ultimately does not expect Santos to be a major issue for New York voters — especially outside Santos’s district — compared to other issues such as inflation and crime.
“I think those are the issues much more so than the fate of some former congressman is going to matter to voters,” Faso said.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated the pending special election a “toss-up.”
D’Esposito and Lawler appear to currently be facing the biggest challenges of their New York GOP cohort next year.
But the constituency that they and other incumbents are trying to win over could change following an expected ruling from the state Court of Appeals over whether new lines should be drawn for the districts in 2024.
The districts that the Democratic-led state Legislature approved were tossed out by the appeals court ahead of the 2022 elections, and a special master created the map currently in use. This helped contribute to Democrats losing several seats that year.
Democrats are now trying to have the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission be allowed to create a new map, which could ultimately be more favorable to them. The appeals court heard arguments on the case last month and appears likely to issue a ruling soon.
Faso said even if the appeals court rules in favor of the Democrats to have new lines drawn, that will not necessarily stop the Republican incumbents, since the New York Constitution has a prohibition against partisan gerrymandering.
“If Democrats were to try to weaken politically the districts of many of our members, then we have the basis to sue again,” he said.
Reinish, the Democratic strategist, said even small changes to the lines could make a difference.
He and another New York Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, said one House member who could be in jeopardy with the lines changing would be Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R), who represents Staten Island and part of Brooklyn.
“It depends on whether the lines remain in place. If they do, the present incumbents will have an easier time. If the lines change to benefit Democrats, it will be much more difficult for the Republicans to hold onto seats they have besides those in Nassau and Suffolk [counties],” Sheinkopf said.
Reinish, who said that New York Republicans will have a “real target” on their back, argued that the incumbents will have trouble benefiting from split-ticket voting in a political landscape where that is becoming less common. He said they may be able to tell voters they “did the right thing” on Santos, but that will not matter as much as other issues.
He noted that these Republicans have still voted with House GOP leadership and controversial members such as Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) most of the time.
“That is a public relations talking point,” Reinish said. “And yes, they did take the right vote, because of course George Santos does not belong in Congress in the first place. However, that reads much more as politics than anything else. And that does not affect your constituents’ day-to-day lives.”