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Race To Replace George Santos Too Early To Call; GOP's Pilip Concedes Special Election In New York; CNN Projects Democrat Suozzi Wins New York Special Election; Tom Suozzi Wins Special Election To Replace George Santos' Seat. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 13, 2024 - 22:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They abandoned them in 2018, that's why Nancy Pelosi was speaker. They abandoned them in 2020. This is New York. Joe Biden is going to win New York anyway.

But to that point, if you go back in time, you come here 2016, Nassau County, it's closer. You see there, you come through. Just want to go way back in time. Bill Clinton won this area pretty decisively. So, not exactly the greatest analogy that way, because the maps do change.

But as we look in here, let's just come back in and see if the numbers have gone up at all. But we are stuck right here still, 61 to 39 in the race right now. But a very important point, most of the vote is from the Queens part of the district, very little of the vote from the much more Republican suburban area. Jake, hopefully we get more count just in the minutes ahead.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, John King.

And if you're just joining us, we are covering the special election to fill the House seat previously held by ousted Republican George Santos. And right now, we have another key racer alert for you.

Let's look at the big board here with 14 percent of the estimated vote in. Former Congressman Tom Suozzi, the Democrat, has 61 percent of the vote to the Republican's 39 percent. Suozzi has 15,592 votes. He's 5,615 votes ahead of Republican Mazi Pilip, who has 9,977 votes.

It is early yet. We expect a lot more vote counting to happen tonight.

I want to check back with our correspondents who are covering the candidates. First, we go to Miguel Marquez. He's at Suozzi's campaign headquarters in Woodbury, New York.

And, Miguel, what is the Suozzi camp's take on the numbers so far?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I want to show you this room right now and how it is just filled up. And the Suozzi campaign saying that they seem to be -- everything they are saying seems to be that they are very, very confident that this vote is going to go their way, so confident, in fact, we spoke to Jay Jacobs a short time ago, he's the head of the Democratic Party here in Nassau and in New York State, he is very confident that the early votes and those early ballots, they say that they are getting some of those numbers already. They're starting to see some of those numbers and they like the way that they are breaking for them. And that in the next few minutes that Jacobs and Tom Suozzi will come out and they will address this crowd. They have said all along that they did not expect to do that unless they were certain of a result.

So, we expect to hear something from the Suozzi campaign very, very soon, from Suozzi himself very, very soon. And, look, he has run a very tight, very sort of centrist, very aggressive campaign and millions and millions of dollars been spent across the board here. So, they are hoping that the result is theirs tonight.

TAPPER: All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

And we have another key race alert for you right now because while Miguel was talking, a lot of votes came in. We are now above 50 percent of the estimated vote in, 51 percent to be precise.

And Democrat Thomas Suozzi maintaining his lead, he has 58.7 percent of the vote. He is 55,154 votes. That's how many he has. That is 16,311 votes ahead of the Republican, Mazi Pilip, who has 38,843. That's with 51 percent of the vote in, Suozzi with 58.7 percent and Pilip with 41.3 percent.

So, that's a lot of votes. She still could make it up. But if I were, I'd rather be Congressman, former Congressman Suozzi than Mazi Pilip right now with a majority of the votes in.

KING: Absolutely, half the vote -- if you have about half the vote, again, this is an estimate, it's a special election. So, there will be a tiny little bit of wiggle room just there because the turnout's unpredictable in a special election. You're making an estimate based on turnout. But you're exactly right, especially as you approach what you believe is half the vote or more. When you've got a significant lead, it's just simple math. It just gets hard to cut into.

Now, just one point to make, when you have the votes bring into the central location in Nassau County and reported, and you get a big number of votes like that, nine times out of ten, that is the early vote. That is the early vote that has been tabulated. They just can't release it until they get it to the central location, and they go. So, they're all votes. They count. So, if you're Suozzi, Democrats, especially since COVID disproportionately, win the early vote. So, we need to watch and see as it balances out.

But to your point, break it up by county. Now we have a significant amount of votes. Remember just moments ago when we only had 1,000 and change, the Republican candidate was winning in Nassau County. If it stays this way, and if Nassau County stays blue, Suozzi wins the election because we know Queens is going to stay blue. So, if Nassau also stays blue, this is where you'll have much more of the votes, perhaps as many as four times as many votes here cast here. So, if Suozzi keeps the Nassau County part of the district blue, just you don't need to know the math.


TAPPER: This is probably, as you note though, mostly early vote, right, which they -- about 80,000 out of this 160,000 were early and we know that, generally speaking, most of those were Democratic voters. So, this is not a surprise but this margin is really surprising.

KING: That is the key point. So, on the one hand, you're a Republican, you say this is the early vote, it's going to the Democrat. That's okay, we'll get it back with the Election Day vote. Okay, you can, but you're exactly right.

So, you can get it back, but that means you have to beat that. That means on the election, if that's the early vote on the Election Day vote, you got to beat 58 percent or more. That's a big number, right? That's a big number.

So, yes, the early vote does tend to be disproportionately Democratic, but in the end, it's still math. And those votes all count and you've opened up that lead. So, now we need to see as you go from there.

We believe -- this is up, we say 82 percent of the estimated vote. We believe we're pretty close to done for the night in Queens too. So we don't expect the Queens part of the district, we don't expect more votes to come in. We think we're close. So, this is the game now.

As the votes come in in Nassau County, we think we're around 45 percent. These came in pretty quickly, as we saw with John Berman on the scene there, the flash drives, the discs, the backup materials showing up there. So, watch as this continues.

Come out to the full district. There's your math, 59, 41. If you're Suozzi, you're happy, but you want to see -- you want to know from your people on the scene, Jake, and some of these key precincts that, okay, now we're seeing Election Day votes.


KING: If you keep that lead or you only lose a little bit of that percentage as you see more Election Day votes, that's when you start getting more confident.

TAPPER: So, let's find out where this big amount of vote, this vote dump, as they call it, just came in from.

We actually have a correspondent/anchor at the site of the Nassau County Election Board in Minneola, New York. John Berman, we just saw the vote count go from something like 16 percent to 51 percent. Where did those votes come from? Were they early votes? Tell us more.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, yes, almost all of what you're seeing right now is the early vote in mail-in from Nassau County. That was what was just posted. We had someone run out and tell us, we just put it up on the website.

Unfortunately, I can't see the website, Jake, so I actually don't know what the numbers say. All I know is they just posted the early vote and the mail-in, so that is the batch you're looking at now.

They already had that here. That was already largely in this building already. It's the Election Day vote that's been coming in and being processed now, so I imagine we should get some of that very shortly.

TAPPER: Well, John, I'm happy to be your source of news and tell you what the vote count is because you don't know. Tom Suozzi has 58.7 percent of the vote. The Republican, Mazi Pilip, has 41.3 percent of the vote with 51 percent of the vote in. Now, I hope John heard that.

KING: Yes, I just wanted to locate John on the map. You're making fun of his scarf. I think it's a Red Sox scarf.

TAPPER: I wasn't making fun of that. I just said it was in a style homage to George Santos who was a fashion icon unto himself.

So, in any case --

KING: John Berman has been a fashion icon since before George Santos. I'm sorry.

TAPPER: That's true. That's true.

BERMAN: I'm appropriately dressed for the story.

TAPPER: I agree, and you look lovely. So, in any case, did you expect this vote count at 51 percent, because the polls, by the way, have been neck and neck within the margin of error throughout the entire special election?

Obviously, we did not know who was actually going to turn out. It's so difficult to poll for who is going to turn out who's a likely voter in a special election. And then, of course, there was a snowstorm that rolled through Nassau County this morning.

KING: And there were other things as well. There was, as you were talking in the interviews with the congressman and the congresswoman earlier, there was the idea that the Senate was maybe going to pass, they might even do an immigration package. Then the Republicans, they couldn't reach Republican agreement on that. And the Ukraine debate and the Israel debate and Donald Trump reemerging and, you know, whether it's his comments about NATO or anything else, but Donald Trump reemerging.

So, a number of things have happened that make an unpredictable special election even more unpredictable, I would argue, in the sense the Democrats started this election on defense on immigration. Late in the campaign on immigration, they tried, and these results will be one of the test cases.

It's one race, one special election. We need to be careful to not say, wow, you know, we found gold here, political gold here, but halfway through, the Democrats pivoted and tried to put the Republicans on defense, saying, wait a minute, we're trying to do something tough on the border. You've been asking us to do this for 25 years. We're trying to do it now, and you're the ones walking away. So, we'll see what happens. There were a lot of moving parts in this election from the unpredictably turn out in the special election, from one candidate, very well-known, one candidate, not quite as -- on the scene locally, but nowhere near the narrow identity of him, all that money that David Chalian was talking about earlier. So, there are a lot of unpredictable ingredients in a special election.

But if you're Tom Suozzi, and you're seeing -- it's the early vote, but this is Nassau County. This is where you're going to have the bulk of the vote coming from the district, and you get that, you get 59 percent in the first big installment.


Again, you want to see some Election Day vote, but you're getting happy in the Suozzi campaign.

TAPPER: Yes. And as you noted, it has not been exactly a banner week for Republicans trying to make the argument that they can be trusted with control of government because there's been a lot of dysfunction among House Republicans. And who knows what effect that may have had in terms of suppressing the vote or even causing people to say, you know what, a pox on that.

KING: And very quickly, sometimes being a former does not help you. Sometimes people want change. They don't want to go back. But one of his arguments in the end, we'll see if it works, is the Republicans are chaotic. They're a mess. You don't know what you're going to get. You want me there. You know me. You want me there to represent you.

TAPPER: You want me on that wall.

Now, let's go to Lauren Fox at Republican Mazi Pilip's headquarters. She's in East Meadow, New York. Lauren, these numbers are obviously disappointing as of right now for Mazi Pilip we have no idea where they're going to end up with right now, this is not what you wanted to be, 16,311 votes behind. What are you hearing from Republicans about the race?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are two men in this room for whom this race tonight is really important because they are up for re-election in November. I'm talking about Congressman LaLota, Congressman D'Esposito. I just spoke with both of them about what this race, if Mazi Pilip loses, could mean for them.

And LaLota said and acknowledged the reality that this race tonight, even though it's a special election, even though it's February, even though there was a snowstorm, there are always lessons to be learned when you're looking for trend lines ahead of November and you're hoping to hold on to what is a swing district for yourself as well.

Obviously, I talked to two voters today who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, turned around and voted for the Democrats in this race, voted for Tom Suozzi because they said his message on bipartisanship and the fact that House Republicans have really struggled to pass legislation over the last couple of weeks impacted the way they were looking at this race.

And if you're a Democrat running in these swing districts, running in a suburban district, that's the kind of message, that's the kind of playbook that you want to emulate in November.

So, obviously, both parties are going to be looking for lessons learned. Yes, it's a special election, but two Republicans in this room tonight are going to be waiting very closely to see what this result is finally because they're worried about what it could mean for them in November.

TAPPER: All right. Lauren Fox at Pilip headquarters in New York, thank you so much.

And, Anderson, as John and I were just discussing, and anecdotally, Lauren talked to two Republican or two Trump voters who went for Suozzi. And one of the reasons, at least according to what Lauren just reported, was the fact that Republicans in recent days have not exactly been showing that they know how to govern. In fact, I think this Congress is the least productive Congress since the Great Depression, if memory serves. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, definitely having an impact on voters.

We're back with the team here in New York. David Chalian, I mean, if this does go forward, the Democrat we're expecting to hear from Suozzi any moment, really, does it send a message? I mean, there was a snowstorm. Republicans generally vote on Election Day. I mean, does one read too much into it or --

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I definitely think there's danger of reading too much into it, but we'll do that nonetheless. But in the immediate term, Anderson, if Suozzi ends up victorious tonight, the math in the House changes.

So, this would be a flip from a Republican held seat prior to the expulsion of Santos to a Democratic seat, and that's going to make Speaker Johnson's math that much more complicated. Like, for instance, if indeed that happens, there are still three vacancies. If everyone shows up for a vote, Johnson is only going to be able to lose two Republicans on any given issue if he needs all the Republicans to vote for it instead of three. That's a big, that's a big deal. There's no margin of error. So, that's one.

But in terms of the -- for the -- looking towards the fall, the thing about this district is this is New York -- these New York districts are what delivered the majority to the Republicans in the House of Representatives. And it is precisely the kind of district that Democrats need to win back if they are to win control of the House of Representatives in November. And so, yes, there are specific circumstances here. I think the immigration issue is probably more acute here in the New York media market than it is in some of these other districts, the snow, no doubt about it. But the broad picture, the broad picture is if the Democrats can flip the seat back, they have a model to try and start recreating in some of these districts for the (INAUDIBLE).

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I think to that point, look at what happened just a few hours ago. I mean, they impeached the Homeland Security secretary by a single vote in Washington. This would have potentially changed that if Tom Suozzi was Congressman Suozzi when that vote went down.

And so I can tell you, Speaker Mike Johnson's office is obviously watching this very closely. It was their number one priority today. this is not good news for them because it does have that immediate impact.


Even if you can't really read into what's going to happen in November based on what's happening here tonight, it has an immediate impact on what's going to happen over the --

COOPER: And we should just point out, both candidates have said they will run again in November in the regular election.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: I do think that there's one element of this race, and this is just one data point in several cycles where we've seen something similar, which is that these national trends of dissatisfaction in the electorate, Democratic-leaning voters are as unhappy as anybody else about what's happening at the border or the economy or what have you, but when people go into the voting booth and they make a decision about who they are going to vote for, it may not line up with how unhappy they are because it is a choice.

And that is what national Democrats are counting on, the Biden campaign in particular, that people might be unhappy, but when they're facing A and B, they have to make a decision, and sometimes that does not line up necessarily with the trends here.

This is a district that should have been, one, where Republicans could have leveraged immigration, for example. If they don't pull out a win here, I do think it calls into question how potent that is going to be for voters when they are faced not just with the issue by pollsters, but with a choice in the ballot box.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me say something about election mechanics that's bothering me as a Republican. Voting early, voting by mail, ballot harvesting, getting your votes in, it looks to me like the Democrats here crushed in the early voting in Nassau where the Republicans had to do well, and you're always just one snowstorm away from some kind of a turnout problem.

And so the Democrats are going to win this. It looks like we haven't called it yet, but it looks like, you know, they're, they're on their way, and a big part of it is the Republican Party remains resistant to getting votes in the bank and --

COOPER: Who could have possibly given the Republicans the idea that it's not a good idea to --

JENNINGS: You've got to vote. I'm just saying that you've got to vote. Get your vote in. That's all I'm saying. Vote whenever you can.

VAN JONEZ, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who could have given you such a stupid strategy? I'm just trying to think to myself, is there someone who's just a perpetual loser, who loses over and over again, who also has a losing strategy when it comes to not voting early?

Do you have, sir, any idea? Who might have given --

JENNINGS: We got it. We got it.

FMR. REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R-NY): If I may, I mean, when I said that the outset was, you know, it's like two teams and who shows up on game day, right? And early voting is part of that process. And I think there's a tendency to overemphasize a congressional race as if it's a national referendum all the time.

And the reality is my experience has been people who live in Nassau County or Queens want to know, is this person going to do the best job for me going forward? You can nationalize it all you want, but that's how they act.

Now, I will say this. What was telling the way you can distinguish between the Siena poll that came out last week among independents in the district that President Biden won are actually voting for Donald Trump. And head-to-head in that Siena poll, Donald Trump beats President Biden by six points. So, I think you can distinguish between --

JONES: But why'd you guys get beat?

FOSSELLA: What's that?

JONES: Why did you get beat tonight?

FOSSELLA: I don't know if it's over yet.

COOPER: Let's see what happens.

FOSSELLA: You know, we'll see what happens. But I think when all is said and done, you know, Kathleen and I, you go to the voters, they entrust you because they want you to be their voice, their representative. And if Suozzi wins, he deserves the win. And --

COOPER: Let's listen to Mazi.

MAZI PILIP, NEW YORK REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: -- eight weeks and we did a great job. We are a fighters. Yes, we lost but it doesn't mean we're going to end here. I did -- I did call my opponent. I congratulated him. And I love you. You guys are great, amazing. I'm so proud to be part of this amazing organization, the Republican Party, really real leaders. And I want to thank Chairman Cairo (ph) for his hard work.

And I also would like to thank all my colleagues in government, the people who have been there with me every single day and to you, really most important is to you. You guys are amazing. You are hard workers You love this country. So, let's keep it up and we're going to continue to fight because we are not going to give up. We're going to bring common sense government. I promise you. Thank you. God bless you. God bless America.


COOPER: So, we're also expecting to hear from Tom Suozzi. We'll obviously bring that to you live. We didn't hear from you, Kathleen.

FMR. REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D-NY): Well, look, I'm happy to hear this. I think that Tom was relentless on his messaging. He heard the voters. He understands what their concerns were. And I will say he was aided a lot by a lot of financial help from Democrats in Washington. I think they understood how important it was to win this seat and go into November with a victory for Democrats in Washington.

COOPER: How much do you think the fact that, I mean, people know him, he has a long record there, whereas Pilip is less known?

RICE: I think it did matter. I mean, look, I've known Tom for almost as long as he's been in politics. People know him. You have Republicans and independents who are used to voting for him. They've done it as county executive when he was mayor. And certainly now we know because independents had to majorly break his way in order for him to win tonight.

And I think, again, just going back to the messaging, voters want to hear from people running for office who understand how they are feeling. And even though Tom was speaking not a very progressive message on Long Island, it was a message that worked because it resonated with voters. And I think that kind of relentlessness was important.

JONES: Look, our party is a broad party, it's a big tent. We don't all march down the same little road the way that Trump is marching against Republicans down the same road, and so you're going to have Democrats that can punch you out on immigration that just happened tonight.

JENNINGS: I think the familiarity of a de facto incumbent here may have mattered a lot because this district just tried something crazy basically and it blew up in the Republicans' face --

COOPER: Which was a message that Suozzi tried to push, which is that she is Santos 2.0. It seems a little unfair.

JENNINGS: Yes. We tried this thing that was sort of crazy. Let's just go back to --

JONES: What's crazy about it?

JENNINGS: About -- we tried something -- let's go back to something that we know was okay and not out of the rough, still --

FOSSELLA: I have to say if victorious -- I think that's the deciding factor. I think he's more seasoned as a candidate. That makes a difference. It came across. I think it was a familiarity, a reliability, they didn't want to take a chance, and he ran a good campaign. You've got to give the guy credit for it.

COLLINS: But he was out there so much more than she was. She did very few interviews or appearances. She only agreed to one debate. That was not until the end of this. And so I think that was also part of it.

But the other interesting thing that I'm curious about how the White House is watching it is he distanced himself from President Biden. He disagreed with him on the border. President Biden didn't come campaign with him.

COOPER: And she didn't embrace Trump either.

Let's go back to Jake. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Anderson, and guess what? We can now make an important projection. CNN projects that the Democrat, Tom Suozzi, the former member of the House, will win the special election in New York's Third Congressional District. The Democrats are picking up the House seat previously held by ousted Republican George Santos. Suozzi defeating his Republican opponent, Mazi Pilip, and now sets a return to the House where he previously served.

This is a big and critical victory for Democrats that shrinks the Republicans' already slim majority in the House. With Suozzi's win, Democrats will have 213 House seats compared to 219 for Republicans with three seats, as of right now, remaining vacant. So, it's a huge victory for Democrats.

And let us go now and check in with our friend, Miguel Marquez, who is at campaign headquarters where Suozzi is. I believe he's in Glen Cove, New York.

And, Miguel, the T.V. hasn't caught up with where we are, but I see they're watching CNN. They got to be feeling good there.

MARQUEZ: They are feeling incredibly confident here. And the magic of T.V., you're about to see -- in fact, I'm going to let you listen to this right now.

So, we're about a minute, minute and a half delayed or so from when you guys speak to when it hits the T.V.s here. So that is the news. Look at that sea of cell phones taking all this in.

We expect Tom Suozzi now to -- he and Jay Jacobs, the head of the Democratic Party here in New York State -- to take the stage in about 15 minutes. It's about 10:30. And he will declare victory in this race. He ran such a focus and intense race. It was a very, very short election, less than two months.

And he just used his name. Not just him, but his father, his uncle, the Suozzi name is known throughout Long Island. He's a long time sort of centrist Democrat. He hasn't always gotten along with the party itself.

[22:25:00] And that worked in his favor. He ran essentially on Republican issues, on immigration, on the border, on crime and on taxes, and really drove that message home.

The other thing that really worked for him was that sort of ghost of George Santos, though. Despite the fact that many voters didn't want to talk about George Santos, what drove them to the polls in the final days is that they were doing early voting, was that anger, that residual anger over George Santos. And we've seen this with candidates or with members of Congress that leave under bad circumstances and then their party gets punished in the next election. And that seems to have played out here tonight.

We expect to see, what we expect to say is, Congressman-elect Tom Suozzi in about five minutes. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. We will come back to you then, Miguel, for Congressman-elect Suozzi.

And, Dana, Mazi has already conceded defeat to the Democrat.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Which these days we should, I guess, not necessarily take for granted. It is important that we are seeing a democracy work the way it is supposed to there.

And, Manu, you were up in this district a couple of weeks ago. I was up this past week. It really is interesting to see somebody like Tom Suozzi, who is as classic a politician as they come. I mean, he came up through -- not only did he have a father and grandfather who were involved in politics, but he came up through local politics, being a mayor, being a county executive.

And to watch him -- I watched him work the phones and, you know, stay in touch with people, asking what people's names were who they met on the street because maybe he knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody. It's that kind of connection that he continues to have. Really, I think you can't buy that. That makes such a huge difference.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And he had significant name I.D., which is key too. And it was remarkable though. There was a real fear among Democrats that they were going to blow this race despite having those built-in advantages, despite the fact that Joe Biden did carry this district in 2020.

This is a low turnout election. The voter anger was real over immigration. Suozzi recognizes he was getting nailed on the issue of immigration, had to cut two ads to defend himself. There was a dispute within the Democratic Party about how exactly to go over Mazi Pilip, the debate between national Democrats, Suozzi allies and the like. And there was a fear that this was all going to slip away.

And the decision by Suozzi to essentially distance himself from the National Democratic Party brand, and also Joe Biden. I asked him, would you campaign with Joe Biden? He said Joe Biden would not be helpful in this district. And at the end, Mazi Pilip, yes, she didn't say if she would vote for Donald Trump and the like, she ultimately did say she did. And she defended Trump over all of his criminal charges and the like, when I talked to her and she leaned in pretty hard to the Republican Party brand.

The national Republicans came out, local Republicans came out and she thought that would help her at the end of the day and it just did not.

BASH: And, Jeff, the question is looking at the way that Suozzi ran this campaign as a person who is a candidate in and of himself, somebody again who has those ties, not connected to Joe Biden as much as he possibly can, despite Republicans really trying hard to attach the two of them.

What kind of lessons do we think that Democrats who are going to be on the ballot with Joe Biden in November are going to take from the way that he ran that campaign?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think first and foremost, it's a warning sign talking to Democrats that they know by now immigration is going to be a central issue regardless of where you live. You do not need to be in a border state or district. It is everywhere because of --

BASH: Thank you, Governor Abbott.

ZELENY: -- what Texas Governor Greg Abbott did. It was a very remarkable thing. So, that is one thing. Immigration is a huge concern, which they know.

What they also know is these are local elections. And if you have a strong campaign and brand, you can either outrun or distance yourself from the president to a point. But this is a special election with a very low turnout. So, I think any lessons that we draw tonight are probably short-term lessons.

For Democrats, no doubt it is a sign of relief, it is a welcome sign for them, but I think in terms of the fall, there was no primary in this case, there will be primaries in the fall, so there are many, many, many differences. But Democrats can outstand the Biden low approval rating.

BASH: Audi?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think Suozzi is speaking now, but, very briefly, this is a race. Okay, sorry about that. This is a race that did not have abortion hanging over it, right? So, you can't sort of goose or animate the electorate with that. It's also a race where Republicans had their kind of fantasy atmosphere of immigration and crime being issues that people are talking about a lot.


And he found a way to talk about them. The Israel issue is kind of a wash because essentially he was saying you can have no conditions and still funding.

And so, some of these positions don't work on the national level, but I think that it's going to be instructive in some ways for people who are trying to win over suburbs who are Democrats, who are saying, how do you do this if you can't lean on abortion rights as the issue to get you over?

RAJU: And I wonder also the immigration issue, the fact that the Senate did cut that bipartisan border deal. That gave Suozzi something to talk about. He went after Republicans for abandoning that. And he said that he had pushed Joe Biden to essentially come out with a bipartisan deal, own the issue, go after Republicans. So we'll see if that actually made a difference among voters here.

BASH: You know, and that really made people think not just about the issue of immigration, but the way Washington is running and the chaos. I'm thinking of a guy by the name of Vic, who I met in Bethpage, and he said, I just want somebody who's normal, who won't stoke the chaos. He said normal, not normal.

CORNISH: Could ever make the Problem Solvers Caucus sound sexy. Prior to this point, that's not been useful.

TAPPER: All right, here he is, Congressman-elect Tom Suozzi. Let's listen in as he declares victory.


TOM SUOZZI, WINNER OF SPECIAL ELECTION TO REPLACE GEORGE SANTOS' SEAT: I am. Anything else? Signs down. Thank God. Let me just enjoy this for one more minute, okay?

UNKNOWN: You're supporting genocide. Stop supporting genocide. You support genocide. You support genocide.

UNKNOWN: Suozzi. Suozzi.

SUOZZI: Okay. All right. Despite all the attacks, despite all the lies about Tom Suozzi and the squad, about Tom Suozzi being the godfather of the migrant crisis, about Sanctuary Suozzi, despite the dirty tricks, despite the vaunted NASA County Republican machine, we won!

UNKNOWN: We love you.

SUOZZI: Now, we know that this race was fought in a district --

UNKNOWN: For the last four months, it's really gone.

UNKNOWN: Suozzi. Suozzi.

SUOZZI: I love America. This race was fought amidst a closely divided electorate, much like our whole country. This race was centered on immigration and the economy, much like the issues all across our country. We won this race. We, you, won this race because we addressed the issues and we found a way to bind our divisions. You know, what we just saw with the protest tonight, okay? [22:35:00]

There are divisions in our country where people can't even talk to each other. All they can do is yell and scream at each other. And that's not the answer to the problems we face in our country. The answer is to try and bring people of goodwill together to try and find that common ground.

UNKNOWN: Yes. Yes.

SUOZZI: We won this campaign because the people of Queens and Long Island - let's hear it for Queens. Let's here it for Long Island. Eighty-twenty. It's an 80-20 district.

UNKNOWN: Let's hear it for Labor. Let's hear it for Labor. But the people of Long Island and Queens are sick and tired of the political bickering. They've had it. They want us to come together and solve problems.

So, now, we have to carry the message of this campaign to the United States Congress and across our entire country. It's time to move beyond the petty partisan bickering and the finger pointing. It's time to focus on how to solve the problems. It's time to get to work on immigration, on Israel, on combating Putin, on helping the middle class, and in getting the state and local tax deduction back.

Let's send a message to our friends running the Congress these days starting around for Trump, start running the country. It's time to find common ground and start delivering for the people of the United States of America. The people are watching. They want us to start working together. So, our message is very clear. Either get on board or get out of the way.


SUOZZI: To the people in this room and to our friends throughout this whole campaign, thank you so much for sticking with me. We've all seen -- we've all seen what politics has become. And in this campaign, we try to give a vision of what it could be.

UNKNOWN: Respect.

SUOZZI: Let's take our country back from the dividers. You know that no external force is ever going to beat the United States of America. The only way we're going to be in trouble is if we let ourselves continue to be divided from within.

So this whole campaign, the whole campaign has been about how do we communicate to people that we can be better if we work together to try and solve the problems we face in our country.

And that's the message, that's the message that resonated with the people in this campaign. This was a really tough campaign. And we only won because of that message and because of all of you.

So, listen, do you want to take the country back from the people who are trying to divide it?


SUOZZI: Are you with me in that fight? Yes. Are we going to keep on working until we hold politicians accountable when they just try to use issues for weaponization to try and destroy the other guys instead of actually solving the problems to make people's lives better?

That's what we've got to do in this country. I've got to thank a whole bunch of people. I'm never going to be able to thank everybody by name, Anthony. So, let me just be very clear, okay? I want to start by thanking the Chairman of the National County Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs.

On the National County Democratic Party, I want to thank the Chairman of the Queens Republican Party, Greg Meeks and the -- did I say Republican? I don't want to thank the Chairman of the Queens Republican Party.

I want to thank the Chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, Greg Meeks, and the Queens Democratic Party for selecting me as the candidate to run in this race.


I am so grateful for this honor. I want to say this is the best campaign I've ever been involved with in my entire life. It's been amazing. I've got to thank my best friend, the best partner anybody could ever have in their life, who's put up with so much. Let's hear it for Helene Suozzi and our daughter Caroline, who worked so much in the campaign, Michael and Joseph.

I got to thank our awesome campaign staff -- unbelievable, led by John Goan (ph) and our campaign manager. My advisor for the past 23 years, Kim Devlin and the great Nick Ryan. I can't go through everybody on the team. You're all fantastic. You're all awesome. I've got to thank the people on whose backs really carried a large part of this campaign.

My friends, the men and women of Labor. I will always have your back the way you had my back. I am so grateful to all of you. I can't believe how much work everybody did from the very beginning to the very end of this campaign up until just a few hours ago.


COOPER: That's Tom Suozzi who has now won this special election. Obviously, another election for this same seat in November. Both candidates had pledged to run again. I'm not sure if -- do you think the Republican candidate will? Philip will run again?

KATHLEEN RICE (D) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I mean, that's going to be up to the party leadership. I think they'll probably take a deeper look on where the numbers came from, how they did. But she has said that she was going to run whether she won or lost, but we'll see. VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If she had pulled it off,

we'd be sitting here talking about how she was from central casting, a woman of color, a former soldier, Israeli, the new face Republican Party. So, there was a reason that she seemed plausible to people. She just got whooped now if they want to find somebody else.

COOPER: But it's going to be redistricting in this.

JONES: Which will make it tougher for the Republicans. Tougher for the Republican in this district.

COLLINS: But I think one really important moment is what we just saw there when he got on stage, Tom Suozzi, to give this acceptance speech.

And before he even spoke to the crowd gathered there, a protester protesting the U.S.' stance toward Israel right now and a believed pro-Palestinian protester got up there, which is something that is happening at basically every single event that you see so many Democrats, mainly President Biden and Vice President Harris going to right now.

It was a key issue in this race. Obviously, you mentioned that she was a former soldier -- a former soldier in the IDF. And Tom Suozzi was someone who -- he made this argument that I thought was really interesting, which was that you don't need any more pro-Israel Republicans in Congress.

You need a pro-Israel Democrat in Congress in Washington, which I thought was something that, you know, clearly was a big part. For voters here, given there are a lot of Jewish people who live in this district.

JENNINGS: One of the biggest districts in the country for Jewish population. And so you had both candidates here speaking to that group.

But I do think it foreshadows, Van, you and I were talking about this earlier, what is going to happen to Joe Biden at this Democratic convention later this year on that topic. You're going to have a lot of energy still around that.

One thing on Suozzi's speech, by the way, you know, he ran as a very, very moderate guy, moderate Democrat. I mean, even running on one tax cut for the rich, running on pro-ICE border enforcement. I mean, this does not sound like, you know, your standard issue liberal progressive.

Now, you would say, well, he's running to match his district, but it is interesting to me that that message obviously sold here, but it is decidedly not where the energy is in the Democratic party, but you know, he found a way that works.

FOSSELLA: I actually like what he had to say. I mean, I find -- it's -- some people love the war of politics. I think most people just want their elected officials to find solutions to their problems. Better schools, better parks, better transit options. I represent Staten Island. It's not too dissimilar from this congressional district.

That's what people want at the end of the day, I believe. Yeah, there's going to be people on either side who are going to like just throw a grenade into their tent and when we're happy, but I don't subscribe to that. So, I give him credit for basically, get up there and say, you've elected me to find solutions to your problems. And I think that's the right approach.


JONES: Well, you know, I think a couple of things, this is going to be re-run. To your point, they're going to be a different district. So, I think this guy's going to be here for a while. But I think that this idea that all Democrats are these far left progressives that are, you know, all socialists and all in what, that's not our party.

We've got base black voters that are quite conservative on a bunch of issues. We have a big tent party, and people get attention in our party who are on the extremes, but we've got a big tent. The problem, I think, on the Republican side is they're being forced by one guy to toe one line on everything.

And now Republicans can't even deliver on immigration because one guy, Donald Trump, doesn't want them to. So, I think the flexibility in our party that we can, that you can have Democrats excited to see ALC on our air tonight and also excited this guy won. That's a healthy party. We have a healthy party.

COOPER: It's interesting, though, the discussion. You think about, I don't know, was it last week, you had the President come out, give that press conference in response to the Hur report, didn't go over well among certainly the pundit class.

And then there was a lot of hand-wringing among Democrats about President Biden. And then President Trump came out with the comments about NATO and encouraging Russia to invade the countries and NATO countries that don't, you know, pay their fair share.

And I'm wondering if this victory by a Democrat, you know, whatever the reasons for in the particular district, but does this -- does this sort of give some wind to the sails for Democrats?

PHILLIP: I think that one of the things you're pointing to is, and this is what Van was saying as well, which party leader, if it's Trump or Biden, is going to allow the candidates down ballot to break away from them, to have some space from the national narrative.

That's how districts are won, that's how Senate races are won, that's how in tough election cycles like this, one that we're about to have, where the national mood is so sour, the party that is going to be victorious is going to be the one where the candidates who are the right for those geographies are able to break away from the national narrative and run the right race for that place.

In this case, I think that is what you saw happen here for Suozzi. He was able to create an identity for himself that was separate and apart from Joe Biden. He had to do it somewhat aggressively, but that's what you're going to see a lot of candidates doing in the next half month.

JENNINGS: And it's easier to do in a low turnout special, by the way. Harder to do when the President is on the ballot and his opponent is on the ballot.

COLLINS: Which means, what a Mike Lawler and the other freshman Republican moderates who right now, you know, could have hoped that immigration bill that was bipartisan could have potentially helped them. But what do they do? What does this mean for them tonight?

I think those are several three people I believe that you're watching really closely to see what they're reading in this because they are people who did not run similar to Trump. You know, they said the election was not rigged. They said it was not stolen. They've broken with their party on the more extreme parts of it, but how do they look at tonight and how does that change their race come November?

CHALIAN: What we didn't hear from Tom Suozzi tonight was going after Trump or trying to paint the entire Republican Party with Donald Trump tonight. That's going to change. That is what Joe Biden is going to do. That is their campaign because to your Big 10 point, Van, the unifying force for Democrats for everyone in that tent is Donald Trump.

And that's what the Biden team is banking on here. And that's what's going to change in the environment apart from this special election, as Scott was saying, to a much more nationalized -- we're going to be in such a Trump-Biden dynamic that tends -- it tends to have down ballot impact in the heat of a presidential election.

PHILLIP: And look, it's congressional Republicans --

JENNINGS: This is part of the flexibility fight. We're struggling with this right now as Republicans. We've got -- take the Senate races. We got everybody from Kerry to Larry, Kerry Lake to Larry Hogan. Couldn't be, but you've got Republicans out there who couldn't be angrier about Larry Hogan getting into the Maryland Senate race.

Now, he's the exact right kind of Republican for that race. But I see people every day saying, we can't possibly elect this kind of a Republican. But that's the person you would need there.

So, that flexibility point is a good one. And you know, for the party leaders, they don't really need a litmus test on what kind of a person you are. You just need to get there and give your party the majority.

The smart party will go that direction. I'm a little worried about the Republicans not embracing people like a Hogan in that Maryland Senate race, because they just, you know, they want more purity and not as much majority.


RICE: If I could just say, to your point, Abby, look, I've been in this Democratic majority where we have been given the flexibility from leadership -- congressional leadership, to do whatever you have to do to win. Say whatever you have to say. If you want Biden to come to your district, he'll be there. If you don't, he won't. That is not going to happen for Mike Lawler or anyone on Long Island. It's just not going to happen.



FOSSELA: Well, in fairness, I think, you know, this is one race, as you said, Tom Suozzi deserves a good victory. Apparently, ran a very good campaign. But this is against the backdrop of the trend over the last few years across Long Island and indeed some parts of New York State where the Republican Party has done very well because I don't know every race, but they probably had good candidates running on issues that matter.

And I want to talk before about the ad spending. More than 80 percent of the ads spent on immigration, migrant issues, and law enforcement. Because there's a feel, at least around New York City in the suburbs, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester, that there's something that's just wrong and nobody's doing anything about it.

So, we're going to hire the people who's going to fix that. And I think Swazi pulled a good one. He said, I know the immigration's a problem and I'm going to be your guy to fix it. And that probably helped them when all was said and done.

PHILLIP: One of the other elements, I think, that Swazi is alluding to, and I think we heard from some of our reporters talking to voters saying they look at Washington and they look and see what kind of leadership is on display.

Republicans in the House are not doing themselves any favors by making this an incredibly unproductive legislative session by not being able to govern even with their own small majority which Democrats have had and have been able to pass laws.

That doesn't help when voters are trying to decide who actually -- what is the model for leadership that I want to support in Washington? That is going to be a problem, not -- I think it was a problem in this race. It's probably going to be a problem and a lot of other races going down the line. This was their -- supposed to be their opportunity to show voters how they would lead. And, so far, frankly, it's been kind of a disaster from day one when they could not elect a speaker.

CHALIAN: And Biden's going to tie that dysfunction to Donald Trump.

COLLINS: And what they're doing tonight is impeaching the Homeland Security Secretary after they just sunk the bipartisan immigration bill that was negotiated.

PHILLIP: For, I mean, not just what are they impeaching him for, but the impeachment is not going to go anywhere. So it's like, what are they doing? JONES: There are two different kinds of disorder and dysfunction. I

think the Republicans have been trying to look at the disorder and dysfunction at the street level and talk about crime, and talk about immigration, tie the two together and talk about that. The problem is in power, they look like the disorder and the dysfunction. What they're doing in D.C., every day looks disordered and dysfunctional.

And so, I think Democrats are going to start pointing that out. And because they genned up the issue of immigration, Republicans took it. Nobody was talking about immigration this time last year, it was all abortion.

Republicans successfully took that issue from the margin to the center, dropped the ball, and then lost an election on it. That's where that Republican party is. Dropped the ball, didn't pass legislation, and then lost in elections.

JENNINGS: But the Democrat did run a pro-enforcement campaign. I mean, he was running clips of himself on Fox News supporting ICE.

JONES: We can beat you on that issue, but you got to say you passed legislation. That's what I'm saying.

JENNINGS: But I'm saying not every Democrat's going to be able to run his heart on immigration.

COOPER: Let's go back to Jake in D.C. Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Anderson. Let's talk about all of this with the panel. And I guess there is this question about how much of the Republican dysfunction that we've seen on Capitol Hill played a role, anecdotally, we've heard from some voters or Lauren Fox from some voters, that that played a role.

But then there's also just the Trump factor. How much did Donald Trump and his presence play a role in what happened to a woman who, you know, a local official who otherwise might have been a very strong candidate?

BASH: I'm not sure that in this particular case, it played a big role. I mean, you were also there. I'd love to know what you think. Certainly, what Democrats tried to do was tie her to Trump.

In fact, there was a bit of a kerfuffle between the party and Tom Suozzi's campaign because the party, which is the independent expenditure aside the people who put up ads and they're not supposed to coordinate with the campaign or the party called her a MAGA Republican. And at first, Tom Suozzi and his campaign -- they were not that happy about that because they really wanted to not scare off the MAGA Republican.

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: -- because they thought some of them would actually vote for him. So, it wasn't as big of a factor because she wouldn't really talk about Donald Trump as much as other Republicans are eager to because of where she was.

RAJU: Yeah, no question about it. And that was that was an interesting dynamic because they were worried about giving her credence with the MAGA base, reducing the MAGA turnout because they didn't really know who she was and trying to define her as someone who is hiding from her views. That's how Suozzi wanted to label her.

But it was just the way that Suozzi was able to manage the toxicity -- that he would frankly acknowledge -- that the toxicity of the democratic brand and try to pivot around that.


That will be learning something that, a playbook that will be replicated by Democrats in these swing districts time and again, and to take on issues like immigration head on.

I mean, this reminds me of the 2020 elections which were -- Democrats lost in a lot of these key races because they did not take on the issue of crime. They got hit on the issues of defunding the police. Suozzi recognized he was getting absolutely eviscerated on immigration and tried to take it head on and he probably was helped by that Senate bipartisan deal that was cut. Could seize on that, could take it to Mazi Pilip and say Republicans killed this one good chance we had to do something.

CORNISH: And also not to explain things away, like on the issue of immigration and particularly crime. His approach was not to say, well, the numbers aren't as bad as you think because if you look at these stats, which you often hear from Democrats, he said, look, I get it. I get that you think this is a problem. I think it's a problem. But look at how the Republicans didn't handle it.

So, instead of just sort of saying like, well, it's in your head. It's not as bad as you think, he really just addressed it.

ZELENY: And the bottom line in all of this is Donald Trump and President Biden more largely bystanders, they won't be in a general election. They will be at the middle of all this. But what democrats are sort of relying on now is they can use money and they have financial advantage in many respects to push back in this case.

But I think, this again, for some as interesting as it is, it has very limited lessons perhaps for the election nine months from now.

TAPPER: All right, Democrat Tom Suozzi is headed back to Congress. CNN projecting that he will defeat Republican Mazi Pilip in the race to replace ousted Congressman George Santos. A big blow for House Republican leadership dealing with an already razor thin GOP majority. Our coverage continues in just a moment. Back after this.