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Hakeem Jeffries

Jeffries plots House comeback through New York

No one was a bigger winner in New York’s special election this week than House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

On the surface, Jeffries appeared to play a minimal role in former Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-N.Y.) easy win over GOP candidate Mazi Pilip. In reality, Jeffries was far more involved in the 3rd District special than previously reported.

Jeffries was wary of publicly participating in the campaign due to the Suozzi team’s desire to avoid nationalizing the race. When Jeffries did visit the district to rally with Suozzi at the start of early voting, the event wasn’t noticed to the press.

But Democrats told us Jeffries played a lead role in bringing together key stakeholders to turn out the base for Suozzi in an unusual February election.

DCCC Chair Suzan DelBene credited Jeffries with coordinating the New York delegation to serve as surrogates for Suozzi, singling out the roles of Democratic Reps. Grace Meng and Gregory Meeks.

“Leader Jeffries was very involved in terms of making sure that we had the ground game and folks working together so that we could really get out the vote,” DelBene said.

Jeffries himself was responsible for raising $1 million for the NY-3 effort. The House minority leader held fundraisers in D.C., New York and Florida and shifted money to the New York State party to assist Suozzi.

And Democrats flagged the essential role of the top House Democratic super PAC launching a $45 million New York fund last year. As evidenced by the massive Democratic spending advantage in the Suozzi campaign, it’s clear the minority party won’t be skimping on investing in these seats.

Let’s zoom out for a minute: This win is as important symbolically as it is practically. Yes, it further narrows Republicans’ already razor-thin majority this Congress to just two votes.

But more importantly, this victory really helps Jeffries long term. He needed to prove Democrats could win on Long Island, beating back the Republican inroads that are threatening his chance at the speakership. Jeffries also needed to prove Democrats could win on tricky issues like the border and the economy. And, most of all, Jeffries needed to show they could win with him at the helm.

Jeffries largely avoided blame for any role New York Democrats’ overreach had in the redistricting disaster last Congress. But history likely wouldn’t be so kind if Democrats whiff in New York again, with Jeffries firmly established atop the Democratic Caucus.

Jeffries is already working to head off another Election Day disaster, playing a more heavy-handed role in Democrats’ redistricting strategy, leading litigation on the issue and installing longtime allies in key positions.

Of course, Jeffries could end up speaker if Democrats emerge victorious in the New York blue districts where Republicans triumphed in 2022. Democrats are eager to right the ship and avoid another embarrassing setback in the Empire State.

Along with Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeffries is building up the ground operation in New York to flip the House blue. It’s a critical effort given how decimated the state party was during the former Gov. Andrew Cuomo era.

“From Governor Kathy Hochul, Nassau County Chairman Jay Jacobs, Queens County Chairman Greg Meeks, Rep. Grace Meng and the entire Congressional delegation, to the hardworking men and women of organized labor, we built an unstoppable coordinated campaign,” Jeffries told us in a statement, embossing the team effort.

All eyes will be on New York’s independent redistricting commission, which will later today vote on a proposed new map for House districts.

Also: Jeffries will be co-leading the House delegation to the Munich Security Conference this weekend, alongside House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio). This will be one of Jeffries’ first major forays into foreign policy.

— Max Cohen, Heather Caygle and Andrew Desiderio

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.