Five Things To Watch in NY-20
Voters head to the polls in New York's 20th district today to choose a replacement for appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), a close race in a swing seat that has seen considerable spending by both national parties and will almost certainly be cast as an early referendum on President Obama's agenda.
We'll have full coverage of the results later tonight on the Fix but in the meantime, here are five things to keep an eye on as the day progresses:
1. Saratoga County: The most populous county in the district, Saratoga is absolutely critical to state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco's (R) winning formula. It leans Republican and contains areas that Tedisco represents in the state Assembly -- meaning that if he doesn't carry Saratoga, he likely won't win. By way of comparison, Gillibrand won Saratoga by 26,000 votes in her 2008 blowout victory and by 6,000 when she ousted then Rep. John Sweeney in 2006.
2. Did Democrats Spend Enough?: National Democrats were outspent by national Republicans in this race by roughly $200,000, a spending pattern reflective, perhaps, of how important getting a win is for the downtrodden GOP. If venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D), who has spent $250,000 of his own money on the contest, wins tonight then Democrats will look like master strategists. If he comes up short -- particularly if the race is very close -- there is likely to be significant second-guessing of a majority party who let themselves be financially outgunned in the first special election of the Obama presidency.
3. The GOP Circular Firing Squad: Most Republicans we talked to over the past 48 hours expect Tedisco to come up short against Murphy today. If that happens, the blame game will begin quickly and for good reason. On paper, this was a very winnable district (a 70,000 Republican voter registration edge) and Tedisco, a well-known local legislator, was a good fit for the seat. The campaign has played out differently as Murphy used Obama's popularity -- among Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans -- to gain the momentum in the race and never relinquished it. Should Tedisco lose, this will be seen as an opportunity lost and will likely redound negatively for Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, who promised to make the party competitive in the Northeast, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).
4. Dutchess County: Dutchess, in the 20th's far southern reaches, is covered by the costly New York City media market not the Albany market like the rest of the district. That means that the voters of Dutchess County weren't as heavily exposed to the media barrage as their neighbors to the north. (New York City television is cost-prohibitive in this sort of race, making direct mail the key voter persuasion tool.) What does this mean for Murphy and Tedisco? It's hard to know. But, the math probably doesn't add up for Tedisco if he doesn't win Dutchess.
5. The Obama Effect: How powerful is the Obama brand in downballot races? It's one of the central questions heading into the 2010 midterms and this special election will be the first barometer along the way. At times in Murphy's paid communication, it's hard to tell whether he is urging a vote for himself or for Obama. Murphy embraced Obama's economic stimulus plan early in the campaign and the president has been plastered all over Murphy's mail. The White House, for its part, has sent out several emails urging people to volunteer for and give money to Murphy but the Democratic National Committee's vaunted endorsement ad had only $10,000 behind it -- meaning that almost no one in the district saw it. Even so, if Murphy wins it's thanks to a strong assist from the president and an affirmation of the power of his political brand.
March 31, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
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