Rep. George Santos hasn’t resigned. He hasn’t even publicly said that he won’t run for re-election in 2024. But the shadow race to replace him has already begun.
In New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which Santos continues to represent despite growing calls to step down, political operators on both sides of the aisle are plotting their next moves.
Republicans are clamoring to find a candidate with an immaculate, bulletproof résumé who can patch up the Long Island GOP’s scarred reputation. Democrats are looking for someone who can lead their comeback—an emboldened move to flip the district back to blue after Santos dyed it red.
The timing is complicated. Santos could resign any day now. And if he did, it’d spark a special election, where party leaders would pick their own candidates. Santos has remained adamant he won’t resign unless all 142,673 voters who voted for him call on him to do so—a purposefully impossible goalpost to track.
If Santos doesn’t resign and serves out his full term, that’d only buy him roughly a year before a primary circuit in the district would begin, when hordes of Democrats and Republicans would openly vie to replace him.
Because nobody knows exactly how long Santos will last—especially amid local, state, federal and international investigations into his corruption—potential successors and their backers are left on their toes. And their names are left floating in the ether.
On the Democratic side, it’s a hodge-podge of candidates old and new. Robert Zimmerman, the Democrat who lost to Santos in November, has been the subject of much speculation. Some see him as a natural default; he already has name recognition and organizing in place. And he openly called for Santos to resign and face him in a rematch, insisting the congressman should “let the voters decide.”
But as things continue to be in flux on when the battle to replace Santos will begin, Zimmerman simply told The Daily Beast on Tuesday, “My only focus is building a strong bipartisan coalition to remove George Santos from office.”
Although Zimmerman’s name ID has dominated much of the Democratic speculation, he’s not the only potential candidate out there. Some others who originally ran in the 2022 Democratic primary appear open to giving it another go.
Jon Kaiman, a county executive who came in second against Zimmerman, has already publicly stated he’s interested in running, and has been reaching out to party leaders. Melanie D’Arrigo, a progressive organizer who ran in the same primary contest, told The Daily Beast, that if there’s a special election, “sure, I would love to run, or, you know, would definitely consider running.”
“But the reality is, that candidate is picked, and I have been and I will continue to be very outspoken critic of the corruption on both sides of the aisle, so I’m not so sure that I would be anybody’s first choice,” D’Arrigo added, noting that she hasn’t decided if she would run in an open primary next year.
Others like Joshua Lafazen, a Nassau County legislator who ran in 2022, insisted he’s focused “on serving my term and running for re-election in this position.”
“That is the only election I am thinking about,” he continued.
One candidate who did not run in the 2022 Democratic primary but who is now a source of speculation is Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, a moderate Democrat who’s built inroads within state government. Rosenthal doesn’t currently live in the district but does represent part of it.
According to a source familiar, Rosenthal would be interested in running if the opportunity became available.
There is one looming wild card—Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY)—who represented the district before opting to run for governor in 2022. He built a brand as a moderate among an increasingly progressive House Democratic Caucus—though that brand didn’t launch him to success in the gubernatorial primary; he came in a distant third.
Suozzi has given no public indication he’s interested in returning to Congress—and declined to comment to The Daily Beast on whether he’d be interested in hopping into any upcoming races.
The Republican side, meanwhile, continues to be a bit more murky. The Daily Beast reached out to a number of Republican names being floated, including state Sen. Jack Martins, former Assemblyman Mike LiPetri and current Assemblyman Mike Durso, to no response. Other names like Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Phillips and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman have been thrown around, too, though Blakeman told City & State New York he had zero interest in the gig.
Local Republican top dogs, namely including the Nassau County Republican Committee, have already called on Santos to resign, as have a number of GOP members of the New York congressional delegation.
But Republican leadership in the House has not done the same. It’s unclear what role they’ll play in a 2024 cycle in Santos’ district. If he somehow did run again, national Republican campaign arms could make the rare decision to campaign against an incumbent.
If Santos doesn’t run again, as he’s reportedly told local GOP leaders, national Republican leadership is left with the choice of leaving the primary contest to voters altogether, or put their thumb on the scale to ensure no more problem children come out of the district.
Whoever does ultimately vie to unseat Santos is in for a doozy of a cycle. The race is sure to be a cornucopia of attention and spending. Running against controversial members—even in races where there’s no chance of unseating them—often draws in national donations. But in this case, it seems more likely by the day that Santos’ political career won’t last long.
New revelations continue to emerge about the congressman’s past. This week, for example, it was that he allegedly stole money from a fundraiser for a dying dog. While that would be a news cycle on its own for most everyday politicians, it’s somehow only a footnote for Santos, who’s lied about his education, work history, family, race, ethnicity and more.
But rest assured, his time in Congress won’t be entirely for naught. While he does serve as an essential vote for House Republicans’ narrow margins, he was also appointed this week to serve on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and the House Small Business Committee.
It’s unclear if Santos has real any experience with science and technology, and his business experience is questionable at best, including his supposed charity for animals, misidentified financial work and time as part of a Ponzi scheme.