Dems invoke George Santos in last-minute ad buy for NY seat

Democrats are finally invoking George Santos as a bogeyman in the race to replace him — as part of a last-minute $1.25 million ad buy before next week’s bellwether special election.

The late TV ad blitz in the final days suggests some concern from Democrats about next Tuesday’s election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

House Majority PAC, Democrats’ top outside group focused on House races, is releasing three new ads to boost Democratic former Rep. Tom Suozzi against Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip. The new buy will run from Tuesday through the election.

One of their new ads compares Pilip to the disgraced Santos, whose expulsion from the House triggered the special election. “Same story, new name,” the ad says, juxtaposing photos of Santos and Pilip.

Democrats have largely refrained from using Santos against his party. While Suozzi previously referenced Santos on his campaign site and digital advertising, the new spot is Democrats’ first broadcast TV ad to invoke him, according to a POLITICO review of commercials captured by AdImpact.

The super PAC’s other two new ads aim to defend Suozzi from Republican attacks that he is weak on border security and slam Pilip on abortion rights.

The eleventh-hour deluge is notable because Democrats already have a massive financial advantage in the race. House Majority PAC alone has spent $7.2 million. But both parties desperately want a victory in the race.

Democrats are hoping to reverse recent declines on Long Island after losing seats there last cycle to Republicans running on crime-centered narratives. A loss would set an ominous start to the 2024 election year in which Democrats face tough fights for the White House and both chambers of Congress.

For Republicans, the race is a kind of referendum of their recent gains — and the first special election under House Speaker Mike Johnson. The election will test the continued potency of GOP messages on issues such as immigration and crime, and can provide additional immediate padding to Republicans’ razor-thin majority in the House.

Before this latest buy, Democrats had already spent or reserved a collective $10.1 million on advertising, compared to nearly $6.6 million from Republicans, according to data from AdImpact. Suozzi also vastly outraised Pilip by a more than 3 to 1 margin from Oct. 1 through Jan. 24.

But that spending gap doesn’t seem to be completely quelling Democrats’ worries.

Thenew HMP spot using Santos calls Pilip “an ethical nightmare” who will “embarrass us again” and warns that Pilip owes more than $100,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS. Another says Pilip is “running on a platform to ban abortion” with no exceptions for rape or incest. The third pro-Suozzi spot touts his work to support ICE and notes that he worked with Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) “to get tough on illegal immigration.”

President Joe Biden won the Long Island- and Queens-based district by more than 8 points. But Santos captured it in 2022 in a red wave that gave the GOP control of all of Long Island.

Republicans are doubling down on an immigration-centered message, using footage in some of their ads that shows Suozzi bragging about kicking ICE out of Nassau County. The migrant crisis has become a major issue in the campaign as a swell of more than 160,000 migrants from the southern border have landed in the New York City area.

Madison Fernandez contributed to this report.

The influx of money in the final days of the race suggests some concern ahead of the election.  

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