WASHINGTON — Now that Rep. Thomas Suozzi has joined Rep. Lee Zeldin in announcing he’s running for governor of New York, Long Island could have a rare election with two open congressional seats, a situation that has national implications in the 2022 elections.
Democrats hold a narrow 221-213 seat majority in the U.S. House and they will need to keep every seat they can to avoid the usual and often lopsided losses for the president’s party in the midterm contests.
National Democrats hope New York plays the critical role of at least limiting the expected Republican tide by adding as many as four new Democratic seats as they redraw congressional district boundaries, cutting the state’s delegation to the House from 27 to 26. The Democratic-controlled State Legislature will have the final say on the new boundaries.
New York now has 19 Democrats and eight Republicans in the U.S. House.
"They're counting on New York to produce at least several additional seats" for Democrats, said University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato. "The Democrats are really behind the eight ball, but they would be behind a bigger eight ball if it weren't for New York."
Zeldin’s declaration in April that he is seeking the Republican and Conservative Party nominations for governor and will forgo his House seat after serving four terms does little to change Democrats’ consideration of putting his district into play with new district lines.
But Suozzi’s announcement last week that he will run for the Democratic nomination for governor and will abandon his seat in Congress after three terms delivered the Democratic Party a potential blow as it braces for losses next year.
Suozzi of Glen Cove is one of 19 Democrats to run for another office or retire — with more likely to come as lawmakers assess the potential of being in the minority in the House. Zeldin of Shirley is one of 12 Republicans leaving the House, according to the most recent count.
Political observers have not rated any of the New York Democrat’s races as close, so far, as they await the new district boundaries to be drawn.
Suozzi’s decision to leave the House doesn’t help New York Democrats as they take up the task of drawing new lines, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball political analysis publications.
"On one hand, it's bad for Democrats not to have Suozzi running because he's an incumbent and an incumbent that has performed decently well electorally in the House. But on the other hand, they don't have to take into account his feelings on the redistricting," he said.
Challenges await Democrats as they redraw Suozzi’s district, which now stretches across the North Shore from Suffolk County to Queens, said Kondik, author of "The Long Red Thread: How Democratic Dominance Gave Way to Republican Advantage in US House Elections."
Even as it stands now, political consultant Mike Dawidziak, who works mainly with Republicans, said the GOP could be successful in Suozzi’s district in light of the recent local elections in which Republicans won the Nassau County executive post and there was a "red wave" in Huntington and North Hempstead.
Kondik agreed. "That's a [congressional] district I don't think Democrats can take for granted in the redistricting process or just in general, unless they change it in such a way that it becomes a markedly safer seat," he said.
"But if you're a Democrat, and you’re drawing these lines, you have to assume that 2022 is going to be a bad year. And so if you're designing the districts how do you design them in such a way that they perform in a bad year — a bad year with no incumbent?" he said. "That's tricky."
Until the district boundaries are drawn and approved, it is unclear who the candidates will be, though both sides already have begun laying out their lines of attack.
Democrats now face a headwind of an unsettled economy and the highest inflation in decades, according to a Republican strategist who works on New York races. That is reflected in President Joe Biden’s low poll numbers.
Abel Iraola of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement that Democrats will hold on to Suozzi’s district because "we have a track record of delivering for the people." He cited COVID-19 vaccinations, putting families back to work and an investment in infrastructure that will create millions of jobs.
Meanwhile, Kondik and others question whether Suozzi will reconsider and run for reelection to Congress. "Could Suozzi end up coming back and running? Because the gubernatorial bid seems really uphill to me," Kondik said.
When asked about that possibility when he announced his candidacy, Suozzi insisted he is running for governor, but will work to elect a Democrat like himself to take his place.
"We don't know what's going to happen with the redistricting lines," Suozzi said, "but you know, running for governor, it's going to be very important that I do well in the places that I've represented historically, and represent now."