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NY Rep. Nick LaLota invites race with George Santos: ‘Count me in’

NEW YORK — Former U.S. Rep. George Santos met a wave of ridicule after saying that he would run again for a House seat on Long Island, but the Republican congressman who occupies the seat invited the challenge.

It was unclear how serious a campaign from Santos might be. The spotlight-hungry 35-year-old Republican was expelled from the House in December in a bipartisan vote, and faces a 23-count indictment accusing him of fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

He is deeply unpopular on Long Island, and he would have to scramble to petition to get onto the ballot before an April 4 deadline.

But Santos, who left a trail of outlandish lies on his way to a 2022 victory in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, seems to remain hungry for politics and the attention that comes with it. He attended the State of the Union address Thursday night, prompting one Democratic congressman to propose a rule revoking Santos’ House Floor privileges.

Santos said he would challenge Rep. Nick LaLota, the Republican who represents the 1st Congressional District, in the June primary election. Santos characterized LaLota as a RINO, or "Republican in name only."

“After a lot of prayer and conversation with my friends and family, I have made a very important decision that will shake things up,” Santos said on social media Thursday. “Tonight, I want to announce that I will be returning to the arena of politics and challenging Nick.”

LaLota’s response: Challenge accepted.

“To raise the standard in Congress, and to hold a pathological liar who stole an election accountable, I led the charge to expel George Santos,” LaLota, 45, said in a statement. “If finishing the job requires beating him in a primary, count me in.”

Compared to the swing 3rd Congressional District, which includes a slice of Queens and a swath of Nassau County, the 1st Congressional District is more Republican-leaning. It stretches east across Suffolk County from Melville to Montauk Point. LaLota won the district by 11 points in 2022.

Even as LaLota dared Santos to run, the chair of the Suffolk County Republican Party, Jesse Garcia, said Long Islanders do not want to see Santos back on the ballot, and predicted that LaLota would romp to victory in the primary.

In a statement responding to Santos’ announcement, Garcia said, “The people have no appetite for this bad comedy show to continue.” He cast LaLota as a “common sense conservative” who works hard for the people of the district.

“I’m confident the people of the 1st District will continue to overwhelmingly support Nick LaLota at the ballot box,” Garcia added.

As a candidate in 2022, Santos fashioned a fictional resume for himself, deceiving voters about his education, religion, family history, professional experience and property ownership. Santos’ falsehoods included a baseless claim that his mother’s death was caused by 9/11.

His constituents exulted when he was thrown out of Congress by his colleagues.

It may be difficult for Santos to put together a campaign operation given the legal cloud hanging over him.

Among the charges against Santos is a claim that he lied to the Federal Election Commission. In October, a former campaign treasurer for Santos pleaded guilty to fraud charges. She said she and Santos conspired to falsify fundraising documents.

Santos did not immediately reply to questions about his planned campaign apparatus.

Jay Jacobs, the chair of the New York State Democratic Party, said Santos’ campaign declaration was “about the craziest thing I’ve heard lately,” but added that he did not think either party would take it seriously.

The announcement seemed to be Santos’ latest attempt to stay in the news, Jacobs said.

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