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 each are claiming an advantage as a Newsday/Siena College poll and other surveys show a neck-and-neck sprint to Tuesday’s 3rd Congressional District special election.

The Newsday/Siena poll of 694 likely voters released Thursday had Suozzi, a former 3rd District representative, ahead of Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, by 48% to 44%, within the survey's 4.2% margin of error.

A PIX11/Emerson College poll of likely voters released later in the day showed Suozzi leading Pilip by 50% to 47%, within the 3.5% margin of error. It followed a Jan. 18 PIX11/Emerson poll that showed Suozzi leading by 3 points, with a 3.1% margin of error.

The winner Tuesday will serve the remaining term of expelled GOP Rep. George Santos. The election result will impact the balance of power in the House, where Republicans only can afford three defectors in a party-line vote.

Pilip campaign spokesman Brian Devine said the polls showed “essentially … a statistical dead heat” despite significantly higher campaign fundraising by Suozzi, and higher spending by Democratic political action committees on television ads compared with Republican-aligned groups. “The momentum is clearly with Mazi,” Devine said.

Kim Devlin, Suozzi's senior campaign adviser, said in a statement the polls demonstrate that “Tom's campaign is working and voters are responding to his message of working across the aisle to deliver to Long Island … "

The Newsday/Siena poll showed Pilip, 44, of Great Neck, has far less name recognition than Suozzi, particularly among voters who aren't aligned with a political party. Her campaign in recent weeks has focused largely on the influx of migrants at the U.S. southern border, the centerpiece of national Republicans' attacks on Democratic President Joe Biden.

Suozzi, 61, of Glen Cove, has kept his distance from Biden, who held fundraisers for his presidential campaign in New York City this week but didn’t campaign in the 3rd District.

Suozzi supported a bipartisan border security bill in the U.S. Senate that was endorsed by Biden, but died this week after opposition from House Republicans and former GOP President Donald Trump. Pilip criticized the bill, and instead backs a more stringent House GOP measure, H.R. 2, that Democrats oppose.

The Newsday/Siena poll showed 47% of 3rd District voters had a favorable opinion of Suozzi, compared with 39% who viewed Biden favorably. In a head-to-head, Trump beat Biden by a five-point margin in the district.

David Hopkins, a Boston College political science professor, told Newsday the poll results explain Suozzi’s strategy of separating himself from Biden.

“He very likely needs votes from people who are not currently Biden supporters to win,” Hopkins said.

While the Newsday/Siena poll showed Pilip bests Suozzi by 9 points on the question of who would do a better job of addressing the migrant influx, Pilip trailed Suozzi by a larger amount on issues such as abortion, making Congress work effectively and determining the level of U.S. aid for Ukraine. 

“If you dig down, Suozzi is in a really good position despite the unpopularity of his president,” said Christopher Malone, a political-science professor at Farmingdale State College.

Pilip, however, has embraced Trump more as the campaign has progressed. Initially, she withheld praise for him, but recently called Trump “great” and said she’d welcome his endorsement.

Malone said Pilip could be seeing internal polls suggesting that base Republicans want a candidate who backs Trump strongly.

“Independents might determine this race,” he told Newsday, “but if there’s a surge of Republicans that favor Trump who come out, she wins.”

Pilip and Suozzi engaged in a testy debate on Thursday, broadcast at News 12 Long Island studios.

Of the migrant crisis, Pilip told Suozzi, referring to his previous time in Congress, "You created this issue, you were there. You were in charge of this problem, Tom."

In response, Suozzi said Pilip "points out there's a problem, there's a problem, there's a problem. She has no solutions."

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