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The race to succeed the disgraced George Santos for the NY-3 congressional seat took a sharp turn toward the bizarre and the ugly this week with virtually every local media outlet claiming that the Republican candidate, Mazi Melesa Pilip, is avoiding them with the election just weeks away.

On the defensive, Pilip — a county legislator and veteran of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) — is now accusing her opponent, the former Rep. Tom Suozzi, of being supported by anti-Semites.

Pilip’s accusations of anti-Semitism among Suozzi backers don’t stand up on closer inspection. They instead reflect her campaign’s desperation ahead of the February 13 special election, though poll numbers indicate the race is close.

Mazi is Missing

Mazi Pilip launched her congressional campaign on December 15 and then essentially disappeared. She’s turned up at some events — largely closed-door gatherings, most of which seem to be in her affluent Great Neck suburb.

Pilip has made herself unavailable to the local press, instead restricting her availability to softball interviews with national conservative news channels and personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Mark Levin.

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On Thursday, seemingly all at once, anchors and reporters with New York TV channels and newspapers, including the local ABC affiliate, publicly complained that the Pilip campaign is stonewalling them. One reporter for WNYC, New York’s main public radio station, said she’s not even being informed of press conferences. A local Long Island news site described Pilip’s congressional bid as a “phantom campaign.”

The Pilip campaign, it seems, is caught up in a charade — reminiscent of “Weekend at Bernie’s” — meant to hide the obvious: that she’s unfit for the job and doesn’t want to reveal where she stands on many issues like abortion.

Pilip is a registered Democrat now running as a Trump-adjacent Republican. Her only known employment in the U.S. is her current part-time job as a county legislator.

A two-time immigrant — Pilip was born in Ethiopia and evacuated to Israel in 1991 before moving to the U.S. in 2005. Pilip, admirably, is the mother of seven children. And she’s multilingual. But her English doesn’t appear debate-ready. It’s unclear whether she’d even be able to give an address from the floor of the House or take part in committee hearings.

Colleagues in the Nassau County legislature have described Pilip as quiet and non-participatory, perhaps due to stage fright or disinterest. The contrast with her opponent — a former mayor, county executive, and congressman from a political family — could not be more stark.

Suozzi zips around the district like the Roadrunner. He appears to even have picked up some Chinese, which he speaks a little in this video created by supporters targeting NY-3’s growing Chinese American community.

False Accusations of Anti-Semitism

As mainstream media coverage of Pilip turns critical, her campaign is trying to change the story by accusing Suozzi of being adjacent to anti-Semites.

On Friday morning, she claimed that one of her events was disrupted by “pro-Hamas” protestors shouting “anti-Semitic” comments.

A video of the event shows Pilip’s accusations to be false. The protestors are from the far-left Democratic Socialists of America, who are by no means Suozzi supporters. Suozzi, a member of the congressional Problem Solvers Caucus — is about as centrist as you can get. Moreover, the protestors made no anti-Semitic remarks. They asked Pilip about her views on the killing of civilians in Gaza.

Later on Friday, Pilip held a press conference at the Great Neck train station — she seems to rarely veer far from home — alleging that a Suozzi donor posted an anti-Semitic Facebook post.

In reality, there is nothing anti-Semitic in the post. It quotes a member of the Neturei Karta, an anti-Zionist Hasidic Jewish sect whose existence precedes the establishment of Israel. As Hasidics and opponents of Zionism, the Neturi Karta aren’t representative of most American Jews. Many call them fringe. But they are Jewish nonetheless.

While Pilip’s anti-Semitism claims may rally her local Orthodox and Mizrahi Jewish base, which leans to the right, they’re less likely to have an impact beyond, including in the district’s more liberal, reform Jewish communities.

One major reason why: Suozzi is no stranger to Jewish communities in NY-3 and nationally. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) did not endorse a candidate in the race — which is a pretty big deal since Pilip is an Israeli immigrant and served in the IDF.

AIPAC chose not to make an endorsement because there’s really no daylight between the two candidates on the question of Israel. Suozzi maintained an unimpeachable pro-Israel record in Congress. He just visited Israel and the Holy Land right before Christmas. There’s little else left Suozzi can do to match Pilip on Israel, aside from joining the IDF.

A Bellwether Race for November 2024?

New York is a safe Democratic state, but its Long Island suburbs have become swing regions in recent years. Driven by the post-pandemic rise in crime, the area saw a red wave in 2022, with Republicans — including Santos — winning its four congressional seats. Republicans also won the executive races for Nassau and Suffolk counties in, respectively, 2021 and 2023.

That’s why some see the NY-3 race as a bellwether for the November elections. Indeed, the Republican Party leadership seems to see it that way too. The Pilip campaign’s messaging seems to be mainly handled by the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington, which is running attack ads falsely painting the centrist Suozzi as a member of The Squad.

Indeed, it seems as if Pilip imagines herself as running against Ilhan Omar, often contrasting herself — an Ethiopian American Jew — with the Somali American Muslim. Pilip’s campaign seems to want to make the NY-3 race a proxy war between East African immigrants with sectarian overtones.

That may be a bad bet. The NY-3 district can be conservative on crime and, to some extent, immigration. But it’s also rapidly becoming diverse.

While Asian American voters, particularly first-generation immigrants, have been part of the red wave in Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County because of rising crime and the migrant crisis, Suozzi is no left-wing radical on these issues. More importantly, he has deep relationships with the district’s Asian American communities — the Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Pakistani immigrants who make up a quarter of its population. This month’s Emerson poll shows 60 percent of NY-3’s Asian Americans support Suozzi, compared to just 25 percent for Pilip.

To its detriment, the Pilip campaign has largely ignored Asian American voters, giving more time to right-wing talk radio hosts like Mark Levin. It seems to operate in a bubble in which Asian Americans don’t exist. But in this close race, Asian American voters may end up deciding who wins the special election.

Politics is a tactile game. The NY-3 special election is no exception. The Pilip-Suozzi race could go down to who is willing to put in the most work. On that count, Suozzi is far, far ahead.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.

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