NY-20 Special: Five Things To Watch
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.
March 24, 2009; 1:40 PM ET
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