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George Santos and the “scandal penalty”

The “scandal penalty” is not universal: in the two dozen elections fitting this description, the party responsible for the resignation actually ran about a third ahead of the previous elections. But more often than not, voters know why special elections are held — and they punish the party responsible for them.

And sometimes, those who resign in disgrace see their districts flip to the other party after leaving office while in office. This includes those who resigned after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter, posting a shirtless photo of himself on Craigslist, and engaging in a “throuple” with her husband and a former campaign staffer. .

This record could cause problems for Pilip – and explains why Suozzi calls him “George Santos 2.0” in the final days of the race.

Santos won the 2022 election against Democrat Robert Zimmerman by 8 percentage points. The average penalty for scandal this century would result in a near tie between Suozzi and Pilip.

Republicans acknowledge that the Santos scandal could hurt Pilip, but say voters’ concerns about crime and immigration are having a bigger impact on the race.

“We should not have a chance in this seat after Santos in (district President Joe Biden carried by 8 points), facing a former incumbent,” said Dan Conston, chairman of the House GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund . “And we really do, and it’s because of the power of our message.”

Since 2000, there have been 24 special elections following the resignation of members immersed in a major scandal. Of these, 21 involved contested races between the two major parties with comparable general elections before the resignation.

In 13 of 21 elections, the scandal-affiliated party performed worse in the special election than in previous general elections. And in most of the eight cases where the special election candidate did better than the previous incumbent, the scandal was already public during the general election, which likely weighed on the numbers.

The most recent special election on the list took place in June 2022 in Nebraska, after GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry resigned following a criminal conviction for campaign finance violations. (Fortenberry’s conviction has since been overturned on appeal.)

Fortenberry beat his Democratic opponent in 2020 by 22 percentage points. But now-Rep. Mike Flood (R-Neb.) only won the 2022 special election by 5 points, a drop of 16 points

Even greater fluctuations have occurred in recent years. In April 2018, now-Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) won a special election by 5 points to replace former Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who resigned after ethics complaints that he asked several staffers to be a surrogate to carry a pregnancy for him and his wife. But Franks won the seat in 2016 by 37 points, a margin of 32 points.

New York is no stranger to special elections that turn wildly after a scandal. When Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned in 2011 after posting a graphic photo on the website then known as Twitter, Republicans flipped his Queens and Brooklyn House district, with the Republican Party’s Bob Turner winning a special election by 5 points, even after losing to Weiner 10 months earlier by 22 points.

And Kathy Hochul, the state governor who defeated Suozzi in the 2022 gubernatorial primary that led to his exit from Congress, herself won a special election to the House in 2011 by 5 points, replacing Republican Christopher Lee, the Republican shirtless selfie, despite Lee’s 47 points. -points victory in the 2010 GOP wave elections.

The biggest change since 2000 came from the Pittsburgh suburbs in 2018, when Democrat Conor Lamb won a hotly contested special election by about three-tenths of a percentage point to replace former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned l the previous year after being accused. to suggest to his then mistress to have an abortion. This seat was not included in our analysis because it was so heavily Republican that Democrats didn’t even run a candidate against Murphy in 2014 or 2016.

There are other elections on this list following headline-grabbing resignations, in which the opposing parties all ran stronger in special elections to replace them. This includes the resignation of Republican Blake Farenthold of Texas, of “duck pajamas” infamy, following sexual harassment and campaign finance violations. Republican Aaron Schock of Illinois was investigated for misusing mileage reimbursement funds and is known for redecorating his office in the style of the British drama “Downton Abbey.” Democrat Eric Massa of New York admitted to groping and tickling a male employee.

The Santos scandal – he is accused of a series of frauds, fabrications and campaign finance violations – is certainly as notorious as any of them. And unlike other special elections, this one comes because Santos was expelled from the House after refusing to resign.

Of course, the scandal is no guarantee of the outcome, and many other factors come into play in this race, including a snowstorm that could affect turnout.

What we do know is this: There is a penalty for scandal in modern elections. We’ll soon know if voters will make Pilip pay.


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