Political veteran Tom Suozzi and political newcomer Mazi Pilip are locked in a heated battle for the 3rd Congressional District. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican-backed Mazi Melesa Pilip, the candidates in the 3rd Congressional District special election, are locked in a tight race, a new Newsday/Siena College poll shows, as early voting wraps this weekend and Election Day looms on Tuesday.

Suozzi, who represented the 3rd District from 2017 to 2022, leads Pilip, a second-term Nassau County legislator, in the poll 48% to 44% — within the poll's margin of error of 4.2%. About 7% of respondents said they were undecided.

“Clearly the turnout is going to make all the difference in the world,” said Siena College Research Institute Director Donald Levy, noting similarly narrow results with the key bloc of voters who aren't registered with a political party. Suozzi leads Pilip among such voters by 2 percentage points, with 14% undecided, the poll found.

Siena surveyed 694 likely voters between Feb. 3 and Feb. 6. Its findings mirrored last month’s PIX11/Emerson College poll that showed Suozzi with a 3-point lead, within the survey's 3.1% margin of error.

With Republicans holding a slim House majority, the Feb. 13 special election has attracted significant interest and spending by outside political groups. Democratic and Republican super PACs are approaching $10 million in total expenditures, while the Pilip and Suozzi campaigns have raised a total of more than $6 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

The successor to expelled former 3rd District Rep. George Santos, a Republican, could make an immediate impact. This week, House Republicans’ attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the U.S. southern border failed in a 216-214 vote after three GOP lawmakers broke with their party.

The Newsday/Siena poll found that Pilip, 44, of Great Neck, performed strongest when voters were asked which candidate would do a better job of addressing the migrant influx, beating Suozzi 49% to 40% on the issue, and by 13 points with nonaligned voters.

The biggest margin for Suozzi, 61, of Glen Cove, was on the question of who would best address the issue of abortion rights. He outpaced Pilip 55% to 32% overall, and by 23 points with independents.

On the question of who would be best in establishing American policy toward the Israel-Hamas war, Pilip, an Ethiopian-Israeli immigrant, led Suozzi 44% to 41%. Both candidates have expressed strong support for Israel.

Both also showed more strength than their party standard bearers, Democratic President Joe Biden and former GOP President Donald Trump, the poll found. Suozzi was viewed favorably by 47% of voters, compared with 39% who said the same of Biden. Pilip was viewed favorably by 41% — although 16% said they didn't know her — while Trump's approval rating was 40%.

With nonaligned voters, Suozzi's favorability dropped to 41% and Pilip's to 39%, although more than a quarter of respondents didn't know her or had no opinion of her.

In a head-to-head, Trump led Biden by 5 percentage points.

"That jumps off the page," Levy said, noting that some of the people who gave Suozzi his narrow advantage over Pilip said they would vote for Trump in November.

Unaffiliated voters loom large in the special election, with Nassau Republicans expressing confidence they’ll break their way based on issues such as crime and immigration.

Suozzi has tried to distance himself from Biden border policies. However he joined the president in backing a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill to strengthen border security that died this week after Trump and House Republican leaders opposed it. Pilip said she would have opposed the Senate bill, but backs a House Republican measure, H.R. 2, that lacks Democratic support.

The district, which covers Nassau’s North Shore and includes southern parts of the county and a portion of northeastern Queens, has 224,741 enrolled Democrats, 161,624 Republicans and 161,057 unaffiliated voters, according to state Board of Elections figures last updated in November.

Of the poll sample, 39% were Democrats, 39% were Republicans and 20% were nonaligned.

Respondent Laurie Williams, 62, of Port Washington, a Democrat, said Wednesday she already had voted for Suozzi.

"Putting [Suozzi] back in office is like restoring sanity after a year of chaos and not governing," said Williams, referencing Santos, who was expelled on Dec. 1, after a House Ethics Committee report accused him of defrauding campaign donors for personal profit.

Tracee Trax, 75, of Sea Cliff, a Republican, said he  planned to vote for Pilip.

“The big issue is immigration," said Trax, an audio engineer for broadcast television. Suozzi, he said, has "got that Democrat stigma kind of attached to him, and we know how they stand on the immigration thing."

Nonaligned voter Jerry Frangopoulos, who works in finance, said he plans to vote for Pilip.

"It's not more about her, but rather about Suozzi," said Frangopoulos, 48, of Glen Head. "I look at people as career politicians to a degree. I always feel that there's got to be change. For change to occur, you've got to get people out after a few terms, you can't just live in office."

Unaffiliated voter Rebecca Ruchames, a 37-year-old social worker from Plainview, said she plans to vote for Suozzi, based primarily on his support of abortion rights and her opposition to Trump.

But "I don't love either of them," she said of the candidates.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 29,000 people had cast ballots at the 3rd District's 11 early voting sites, according to the Nassau County Board of Elections. About 43% were registered Democrats, 35% were Republicans and 19% were unaffiliated.

With Scott Eidler

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