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Murphy Leads Narrowly in New York Special Election

Venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D) holds a 65-vote lead over state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R) in a special election in Upstate New York, a race cast as an early referendum on President Obama's economic stimulus package.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Murphy had 77,344 votes to Tedisco's 77,279. Somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 military and absentee ballots remain uncounted, according to the Associated Press, and overseas absentee ballots will continue be accepted until April 13. In short, no winner will be declared any time soon.

According to a Republican source, there will be no recount, however. Instead election officials will complete a re-canvassing in which the voter rolls will all be checked to ensure a proper election. (Each vote cast would not be checked and then re-checked under such a scenario.)

Murphy, a political unknown at the start of a special election, focused almost exclusively in the campaign on his support for Obama and, specifically, the $787 billion economic stimulus plan pushed through Congress by the president.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine (Va.) said that Murphy "embraced President Obama's message of change and his plans to fix our economy and create jobs, and as a result he stormed from more than 20 points down to winning a majority of votes cast tonight."

While Murphy embraced the bill as a job-creator for the Upstate, which has been saddled by a slowing economy for years, Tedisco wavered -- ultimately announcing that he would have opposed the bill and using the bonuses granted to AIG executives as evidence that his Democratic opponent was supporting business as usual in Washington.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Pete Sessions (Texas) ascribed the closeness of the contest to "the strength of Jim's campaign and the effectiveness of the Republican message of fiscal responsibility and accountability that Americans are demanding in the wake of the AIG scandal."

A series of three polls conducted for Siena College showed Murphy trailing by twelve points in late February, behind by four points in mid March and ahead by four points in a survey released late last week.

The Upstate district, which was held by Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) until Gov. David Paterson chose her to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, was widely seen as tilting slightly to Republicans who carried a 70,000 voter registration edge. Obama, however, carried the 20th congressional district last November and, according to polls done by both sides, remains a very popular figure there, particularly among independents.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed Obama's direct involvement in the race (and, for good reason, since the Democratic National Committee and the White House did not have a significant presence on television or in terms of voter contact) but noted that "regardless of the outcome, this is a district even be competitive...demonstrates quite a bit."

If Tedisco ultimately comes up just short, Republicans are certain to see this race in hindsight as a missed opportunity. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele had pledged to make the party competitive again in the Northeast and when Gov. David Paterson appointed then Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the New York Senate vacancy created by Hillary Rodham Clinton's ascension to head the State Department, the resultant special election was viewed as an electoral gift for the GOP.

The National Republican Congressional Committee spent heavily on this race -- upwards of $800,000 -- under the belief that the seat could be a major momentum-changer heading into the midterm elections. Even as the race's outcome remained uncertain, there was grumbling among some GOP strategists that the RNC should have spent down some of the $24 million they showed in the bank at the end of February on the race.

If, on the other hand, Murphy loses after all the absentees are counted, there is likely to be some discussion in Democratic circles that the Democratic National Committee, which spent a meager $10,000 on an ad in which Obama endorsed Murphy, and the White House did not do enough to bring their candidate across the line.

We'll obviously have much more on this race as developments warrant over the next few days.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 31, 2009; 8:50 PM ET
Categories:  House , White House  
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When the absentee ballots are counted and they have I believe until April 12? to get there, Tedisco will win. Military absentee ballots will carry hom over. Military votes 3 to 1 GOP.

Posted by: zmancolombia | April 1, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

"So the libs are in danger of losing a seat only weeks after the messiah sweeps to a large victory and somehow it is a huge repub loss? Is this some alternate reality?"

No, drooler, that would be where you reside.

First of all, the "libs" never had this seat. Gillibrand is hardly a "lib." This is the most conservative district in NY State - not some place a "lib" would win. If the Repubs lose it again, that would indeed be a huge loss for them; a sign that they have lost another formerly safe seat.

Second of all, "the messiah" swept to victory five months ago. That would be about 22 weeks. I guess you could say the world began "only weeks ago" too.

You may now return to your usual rants, SFB.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | April 1, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Jims Bier writes
"I read somewhere that Murphy couldn't vote for himself."

I think you have that backwards: Murphy lives in the district, Tedisco does not.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 1, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

If they're all "libs," zuke, what does that make a conservative like you?

Posted by: mattintx | April 1, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

So the libs are in danger of losing a seat only weeks after the messiah sweeps to a large victory and somehow it is a huge repub loss? Is this some alternate reality?

The fact is messiah is sinking fast and pulling the country down with him. His ratings are down some 30! Points in three months.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 1, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

excuse me, left out a very important word:

"it will be because the extremely conservative, typically pro-GOP MILITARY vote has flipped Democrat. Whack!"

Posted by: nodebris | March 31, 2009 11:54 PM | Report abuse

Another thought: if the Republican loses, it will be because the extremely conservative, typically pro-GOP vote has flipped Democrat. Whack!

I don't expect it to happen, but what a beating if it does.

Posted by: nodebris | March 31, 2009 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Wow. $800,000 and a full-court press so Republicans can maybe declare "victory" by holding on to an extremely conservative district.

Next we'll be hearing about the momentum they're gathering from reducing their losses in Alabama.

Posted by: nodebris | March 31, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

I read somewhere that Murphy couldn't vote for himself.
Stuart Rothenberg had a piece about it on the News Hour and didn't mention it,

Posted by: jimsbier | March 31, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

This is such a Washington Post take on the election results. First, it's not even over. Second, there is no mention of it above the fold on the Web site. If Bush were just elected president, there would be 96 point headlines and a Q&A with the editors of the paper discussing how this dents the new president's popularity. The hypocrisy is transparent. Has Obama given the paper a bail out to keep the positive spin going indefinitely?

Posted by: kenpasadena | March 31, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

This is an amazing result - a 65 vote margin!

We won't know the result for a week or so. The news value of this race will be long past at that point, no matter the winner.

Also, turnout was 58% of the 2008 turnout. Usually special elections get about 15% of normal turnout.

I'm not sure how a tie - which this really is - helps the GOP out. Yes, Gillibrand had this district. But she beat a wife-beater and then had excellent constituent service. That a no-name venture capitalist could work the State Assembly Minority Leader to a tie in the most conservative district in the state is remarkable.

Posted by: ElrodinTennessee | March 31, 2009 11:08 PM | Report abuse

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