Murphy Eeks Out Win in NY-20 Special Election
By Paul Kane
Four weeks after the ballots were cast, Democrat Scott Murphy finally declared victory today in an exceptionally close special election to represent upstate New York in the U.S. House, a race that had been turned into a referendum on President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan.
Republican Jim Tedisco, a veteran state assemblyman, called Murphy today to concede after the Democrat's lead continued to hover around 400 votes this afternoon as the final batch of several hundred votes were being counted. A first-time candidate with government experience in Missouri and venture capital experience in Manhattan, Murphy's victory signaled another crippling defeat for the vanishing northeastern Republican. Ten years ago the Empire State sent 13 House Republicans to Capitol Hill; today, just three.
The sprawling upstate 20th Congressional District, represented by Republicans for 30 years until 2006, still has a 70,000 voter-registration edge for Republicans, but by mid-decade tilted decidedly to the left. First, Kirsten Gillibrand (D) captured the House seat in 2006 against a scandal-plagued incumbent and won easily again in 2008, when Obama also won the district.
The seat came open when Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Murphy quickly endorsed Obama's economic recovery plan as Tedisco wavered on it for weeks, before ultimately opposing it as too costly in a time of
$1 trillion-plus deficits. The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and their outside conservative allies poured about $1.7 million into the campaign, a rare competitive House race in recent years in which the GOP vastly outspent Democrats and their allies. A late ad by the Democratic National Committee included Obama's image, but the party invested just $10,000 in the campaign, a pittance in relative ad campaign spending.
"In trying to win the NY-20 special election, the RNC, NRCC, and their Republican allies went all in on the losing gamble that voters would prefer their 'just say no' approach to President Obama's bold plans to get the economy back on track," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But Republicans said the race demonstrated that, despite the registration numbers, the GOP can be competitive in a district that is now definitely blue in its voting record. "For the first time in a long time, a Republican congressional candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters. This was hardly a common phenomenon in 2008, particularly in the Northeast," said Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), chairman of the NRCC.
On election night Murphy held a small lead that dropped into the low double digits as more absentee and overseas ballots were counted. At one point, with more than 160,000 votes counted, the two candidates were literally tied. Tedisco pulled ahead for a brief period, by about 100 votes, as the candidates sparred over which ballots should be allowed to be counted. By last week Murphy regained his lead and never looked back.
"This was a close campaign every step of the way. Ultimately, it became clear that the numbers were not going our way and that the time had come to step aside and ensure that the next Congressman be seated as quickly as possible," Tedisco, who stepped down as minority leader in the assembly, said in a statement.
Some New York GOP officials are already encouraging Tedisco to consider a rematch for the general election in November 2010.
Murphy's victory gives Democrats 256 House seats, up 53 from the 203 seats they held entering the 2006 midterms. Republicans hold 178 seats, and there is one vacancy to fill, in the heavily Democratic district in Southern California previously represented by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
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