Democrats have a big advertising advantage in New York’s special congressional election so far. But per the GOP ads voters are seeing, Republicans see immigration and border security as a potential weak spot for Democratic nominee Tom Suozzi.
“Tom Suozzi rolled out the red carpet for illegal immigrants,” one ad’s narrator says.
“Another murder committed. Another illegal immigrant arrested. Because of open border radicals like [Gov. Kathy] Hochul’s hand-picked candidate, Tom Suozzi,” rails another.
Suozzi, a former House member, is running against Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip in the Feb. 13 special election. It’s a district that voted by 8 points for President Joe Biden in 2020 but has had Republicans make steady gains in the years since. And Pilip’s allies are pointing to votes Suozzi took when he was a member of Congress against the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, which would have expanded the scope of law enforcement activities related to immigration and defunded sanctuary cities.
Republicans also cite his public rhetoric, like when he told viewers in a Democratic gubernatorial primary debate in 2022 that he “kicked ICE out of Nassau County.” (Suozzi on Thursday argued that the ads took that comment out of context.)
Republicans are running what could be a preview of what awaits in the 2024 general election up and down the ballot. Former President Donald Trump and other GOP presidential candidates have railed against Biden and the influx of migrants at the border for years. And voters are paying attention even far from the border: In New York, more than 80% of registered voters across the state said that the recent influx of migrants is a serious problem, per a Siena College poll conducted earlier this month.
“Make no mistake about it. This is a crisis that has been a strain on resources around the state,” David Laska, the communications director for the New York state Republican Party, told NBC News.
The Siena poll also found that 59% of registered voters disapprove of the job Hochul, a Democrat, has been doing to address the recent influx of migrants to New York.
Ads run by Pilip’s allies, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, have tied Suozzi to Hochul’s handling of the immigration crisis.
Another vulnerability for Suozzi could be a letter he signed when he was a congressman in 2022, alongside Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and dozens of others. The letter called on the Biden administration to reverse Title 42, a measure put in place during the pandemic that allowed border patrol agents to send migrants seeking asylum back to their home countries or to Mexico.
“It’s a big issue in the 3rd Congressional District, both in the Queens portion and the Nassau portion. He [Suozzi] has to run on his record,” Nassau County Republican Chairman Joe Cairo said, adding: “Tom Suozzi is on the wrong side of this issue. The people of the district, they don’t agree with him, and we’ll see that when they come out in early voting and on Election Day. We’ll see where they stand.”
While Democrats have focused on other issues, Republicans dominated advertising in Nassau County on the issue before Suozzi stepped in to fight back this week.
In one ad run by his campaign, a narrator tells viewers, “You’ve been hearing a lot of nonsense blaming Tom Suozzi for the migrant problem. Really?”
The ad features a clip of Suozzi on Fox News in 2018 defending the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and continues with the narrator saying, “Tom Suozzi will work with both parties to close illegal immigration routes but open paths to citizenship for those who follow the rules.”
A second ad, launched Wednesday, features Suozzi in a direct-to-camera appeal, telling voters: “The southern border is 2,000 miles away. But the migrant crisis has landed right in our own backyard,” and reiterating his promise to work across the aisle to address the crisis.
One Democratic strategist working on House campaigns told NBC News: “Republicans are very much trying to emulate … a successful attack they had in 2022. All the Republicans on Long Island and in Westchester were talking about crime in New York and using it as a cudgel.”
Suozzi echoed this sentiment at a news conference Thursday. “My opponent is very good at telling all of us what the problem is,” he said. “We all know what the problem is! What are you going to do about it?”
He added, “I’ve proposed concrete ideas about what needs to be done to solve the problems that we face. She has not.”
The Democratic strategist added that the migrant crisis may not hit home specifically for voters in Nassau County in this race, saying, “As a result of the migrants being sent to New York City, zero of them have been sent to Long Island.”
On the other hand, local news coverage of New York City is widely consumed on Long Island.
“Nobody buys that,” retorted the state GOP’s Laska, adding, “How many people in Nassau County take the train into New York City for work every day? Right? And they see what’s going on on the ground.”
He said that Republicans are telling voters that if they don’t have a migrant crisis in their communities, it’s because of Republican elected officials.
“Many districts that don’t have the problem as a strain on their resources, it’s because you have county level officials — in most cases, Republicans — who are turning down the busing of illegal migrants from New York City to other areas of the state,” Laska added.
Cairo agreed, adding that the migrant crisis is hitting close to home for voters this spring.
“People are upset,” he said. “This isn’t about something that’s going on in Texas, or something that’s going on in the Southwest. This is in Nassau County and in northeastern Queens.”