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NY-20 Special: Five Things To Watch

Business Scott Murphy (D) (left) and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R) find themselves in a tight race for the NY-20 seat going into the final week of campaigning. (AP Photos)

The special election in New York's 20th district is just one week away and the level of national interest -- and involvement -- is growing rapidly.

The two national parties as well as a variety of interest groups are weighing in on the race and, although both sides are downplaying expectations, there is much at stake in the contest.

What's clear is that businessman Scott Murphy, the Democrat, has the momentum over state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R), and a loss for Republicans could be potentially disastrous for a party looking for good news.

The last week of any campaign has the potential to make or break a race -- and that is especially true in a special election where voters have paid little (or no) attention to the contest thus far.

What could those last minute developments be? Here are five:

Obama Involved?: The White House has, to date, been very stingy about using the president's powerful political brand on behalf of downballot candidates. (During last year's general election, Obama did commercials for a select few candidates but turned down far more offers.) The Albany-area district went for Obama narrowly in November, according to tabulations by Swing State Project, and, given that special elections are almost entirely base turnout affairs, an ad or even a robo-call from the president would help energize the grassroots.

Third-Party Dominance: The fight between Murphy and Tedisco is only one of several scraps going on for dominance in the political world. Another critical one is among outside political groups, some of which are already heavily invested in the race. For Democrats, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union are playing; the National Conservative Trust and Our Country Deserves Better PAC are both in the game on the Republican side. Expect any (and all) of the major outside players to take credit if their preferred side wins and work to parlay the victory into future donations for their causes.

Stimulus Showdown: This race has rapidly turned into a referendum on President Obama's economic stimulus plan. Murphy is bashing Tedisco for saying he would have voted against the plan (and the jobs it would have meant for the district) while Tedisco is painting Murphy as a tool of Wall Street (and AIG) in particular. Republicans believe they can win a Main Street versus Wall Street argument and will likely double down on that strategy in the last week. Democrats are convinced that with the economy in such terrible shape -- particularly in Upstate New York -- the only thing voters care about is jobs.

Ad Wars: The ads in the district are almost entirely negative at the moment. Does either candidate switch traffic and go positive in the final days? And does it work? We are of the belief that going positive when your opponent is still going negative usually is a mistake (candidates see their positive ratings falling and panic) but special elections are an entirely different animal and the traditional laws of politics don't always apply.

GOTV: The most important (and obvious) storyline in a special election is how well the candidates "get out the vote." It's simple electoral math: the candidate better able to turn out his (or her voters) is more likely to win. But, in a special election turnout takes on an even more important role as voters are not conditioned to head to the polls in late March and are likely to be more focused on their kids' spring break or tax season than on picking a new member of Congress. Democrats' turnout operation proved to be remarkably effective last fall but it remains to be seen whether such a high turnout can be replicated without the excitement and energy that surrounded Obama's candidacy. Turnout is certain to drop from November 2008 but the question is by how much. The higher the turnout, the better for Democrats. The more this turns into a straight base turnout election that's good news for Republicans who hold a 70,000 person voter registration edge in the district.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 24, 2009; 1:40 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , House , Republican Party  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: White House Cheat Sheet: Obama In Primetime
Next: Specter To Oppose Employee Free Choice Act


Quite honestly, I'm amazed no one has mentioned that Tedisco is from the NY State Assembly - minority leader, I believe. The NY State government is even more dysfunctional than Washington. If I was running the campaign, I'd consider an ad that said something like the following: "You like the way NY state government works? Well, let's send Tedisco to Washington and see if he can do the same for the federal government!"

Posted by: -pamela | March 24, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

maybe, sltlowa, you would like to have an original thought every now and then and not just parrot hannity/limbaugh phony talking points... but i doubt it.

Posted by: drindl | March 24, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

The 20th CD is the most Republican, via party registration, in NY. It was drawn by the NYS Senate Republicans, using the most advanced redistricting software back in 2002 to ensure victory for then incumbent John Sweeney.

However, the residents are not really checking their voter registration cards anymore when they go to the polls, which is why Sweeney was easily defeated in 2006.

Last spring, in a special election, a Democrat captured the most Republican State Senate District even further upstate than the 20th CD.

NY Republicans are in a heap of trouble and I would not be surprised to see another Democrat capture this district, where Republicans hold a registration advantage of over 70,000 voters (plus 9,000 registered Conservative party members).

Posted by: Digital_Voter | March 24, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse


Maybe Murphy should ask Nancy Pelosi to help him think of good taxation policy or ask Dodd to formulate an earmark into the next trillion dollar stimulus package or maybe he should ask Barney Frank to help him find a phobia to deflect critics away from his poor performance. Of course he could always wait for Rangel to help him buy property overseas (Dodd could consult on some Irish dwellings). During that time I am sure he could consult the former Gov of NY on marriage related issues.

Posted by: sltiowa | March 24, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Tedischo wants to ask Dick to help out...

"Former Vice President Dick Cheney has refused to stay out of the political spotlight since leaving office, giving high-profile interviews to CNN and Politico. Last night, The Hill reported that congressional Republicans are telling him “to go back to his undisclosed location and leave them alone to rebuild the Republican Party without his input”:

Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said, “He became so unpopular while he was in the White House that it would probably be better for us politically if he wouldn’t be so public…But he has the right to speak out since he’s a private citizen.”

Another House Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said he wasn’t surprised that Cheney has strongly criticized Obama early in his term, but argued that it’s not helping the GOP cause.

The legislator said Cheney, whose approval ratings were lower than President Bush’s during the last Congress, didn’t think through the political implications of going after Obama.

Cheney did “House Republicans no favors,” the lawmaker said, adding, “I could never understand him anyway.”"

Posted by: drindl | March 24, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Republicans believe they can win a Main Street versus Wall Street argument and will likely double down on that strategy in the last week."

Since everyone knows they are on the Wall Street side, how do you think that's going to work for them, hmm, CC?

Posted by: drindl | March 24, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

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