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Israeli military veteran Mazi Pilip tapped as GOP candidate in special election to replace George Santos

The US Capitol in Washington.Mariam Zuhaib/Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Republicans have picked a little-known county lawmaker who once served in the Israeli military as their candidate in a special election to replace ousted New York congressman George Santos, party officials said Thursday.

Nassau County legislator and former Israeli paratrooper Mazi Pilip will face off against Democratic former congressman Tom Suozzi in a Feb. 13 special election for the seat, which includes northern parts of Queens and Long Island.

The selection pits Pilip, a relatively unknown local lawmaker originally from Ethiopia, against a political veteran in Suozzi, who previously represented the district for six years during a lengthy career in Long Island politics.

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In a statement, Republicans in Queens and Nassau County loosely outlined some of her potential policy positions and said she would bring a new perspective to the House.

“Pilip is an effective tax fighter who will prioritize public safety, economic recovery, border security and tax relief in Congress," the statement read. "She will bring a fresh new perspective to Washington, starkly contrasting her from the candidate for the other major political party.”

The party will hold a formal announcement ceremony for Pilip on Friday. She did not immediately return a message left at her office.

The election is expected to draw significant attention as both parties zero in on New York as a potential battleground for control of the House.

Republicans picked Pilip after vetting a number of potential candidates following the expulsion of Santos from Congress earlier this month for fabricating much of his life story and being criminally charged with defrauding donors.

The selection process appeared to be slowed after media began digging into the personal and professional histories of potential candidates, revealing damaging information that could become public during a campaign.

Politico reported last week that Pilip is a registered Democrat, though she holds her current position as a Republican and has been backed by Republicans when she was running for county office. The arrangement is not entirely uncommon in states that have closed primaries, where so-called crossover voters who identify with one party register under another so they can vote in primary elections.

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Suozzi was tapped by Democrats last week after emerging as the party's frontrunner for the nomination. His extensive political experience could be a major advantage when it comes to name recognition and fundraising for the special election.

Suozzi, a centrist Democrat, was elected to the House in 2016 and won reelection in 2020, before leaving to launch the unsuccessful campaign for governor. He also served as the mayor of Glen Cove from 1994 to 2001, and as Nassau County’s elected executive from 2002 to 2009.