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Democrats Test-Drive Being the Aggressors on Border Security

Tom Suozzi’s win this week gives Democrats a different look for November.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, Democratic candidate for New York's 3rd congressional district
The DSCC is experimenting with new messaging, buoyed by Tom Suozzi’s win. Stefan Jeremiah/AP

The legislative border drama of the past couple weeks effectively culminated with the undeniably solid special election victory of former Rep. now-Rep.-elect Tom Suozzi, a Democrat in a suburb who faced an opposition campaign seemingly designed in a lab to show that Democrats have a problem in the suburbs because of immigration politics.

In the hours since, Democrats began actively testing a plan where it is in fact Republicans who have the problem. It’s as if a trailer for an alternate-reality sci-fi movie has dropped with the narrator intoning: “Imagine a world where Democrats talk about the border and Republicans wish they didn’t.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is actually spending money on seeing if this vision of politics can become a reality. On Tuesday, the group popped a digital ad on Meta-owned platforms targeting Republicans who helped kill the bipartisan Senate border bill crafted by their colleague Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

The ad would sound familiar to anyone who watched Republican commercials against Suozzi in the New York special. Those were focused almost entirely on how dangerous the current immigration situation is and how, as a Democrat, Suozzi was not accepting that danger because of the political pull of his party’s base (never mind that Suozzi actually had some of the toughest rhetoric around undocumented migrants of any Democrat). The DSCC ad reads, “Senate Republicans won’t secure the border. They won’t keep us safe.”

A source familiar with the DSCC campaign told NOTUS the new online ad will run “for several days.” It follows a state-level effort in Ohio, where the Democratic Party popped a digital ad targeting the Republican Senate candidate in that state with the backing of former President Donald Trump, Bernie Moreno.

But in the days leading up to the Suozzi win, with the GOP inaction on the bipartisan border bill swirling around on the Hill, senior sources involved in Democratic Senate and House campaign efforts told NOTUS that they believe this moment is sticky and Republican campaigns across the country could still have it all over them in November.

“This situation is Republicans voting against a bill that they wrote to secure the border, crack down on fentanyl trafficking and keep Americans safe,” one of the Democrats said. “I mean, the ads write themselves.” And later pop up on Meta!

That same strategist was circumspect about how interesting even the most exciting legislative wrangling can be with voters, but said this situation is different.

“It is not always the case that what is going on on the Hill translates to campaigns,” the strategist said, in an understatement potentially highlighted by the release of a public poll this week showing voters were doling out nearly equal blame to both parties for the failure of the Senate bill.

Then again: “Polls Don’t Vote — But When Voters Do, They Elect Democrats,” read a DNC release the morning after Suozzi picked up his old House seat. “Suozzi showed that voters are siding with Democrats after Republicans torpedoed the bipartisan border security deal.”

Ahead of the voting, Democratic strategists focused on New York and nationally said the Senate bill failure probably came too late to affect the outcome of that race in a major way. But they said the recent Republican inaction around bipartisan border security efforts fit neatly into the Democrats’ theory of the case when it came to Republican governance.

“NY-03 is in part a referendum on D.C. dysfunction,” a senior Democrat involved in New York politics texted NOTUS.

Suozzi supporters noted that his campaign was extremely aggressive on immigration right from the beginning with an emphasis on bipartisan solutions against the GOP’s rhetoric.

That is the tack the White House is using as the Republican congressional dysfunction continues on this issue.

“The only common denominator in Speaker Johnson’s dizzying border security tailspin is politics,” Andrew Bates, White House spokesperson, said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Speaker Johnson is damaging America’s national security, opposing bipartisan breakthrough after bipartisan breakthrough, in the name of politics. And the American people see through it.”

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A source familiar with the national Democratic effort to win House races said it’s too early for most House candidates to start spending money on campaign ads and the like, but that even Democratic candidates still building up their war chests are being aggressive on immigration now, eager to go toe-to-toe with Republicans on a topic that just 24 hours ago was supposed to be one of the GOP’s core messages.

“Republicans are not serious about making improvements to anything or anyone,” the House strategist said, when asked what Democrats on offense on immigration might sound like months after Tuesday’s special election win. “All they care about is settling political scores, or sucking up to Trump, or protecting their own jobs.”

Evan McMorris-Santoro is a reporter at NOTUS. Nuha Dolby is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.