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« White House On NY-20: Wait And See | Blog Home Page | Strategy Memo: Too Close To Call »

NY-20: A Photo Finish

Tuesday's special election in New York's 20th District is not over, as Democrat Scott Murphy currently holds just a 65-vote lead over Republican Jim Tedisco. One-third of district voters turned out to vote yesterday, with as many as 10,000 more absentee ballots left to be counted.

Murphy and Tedisco are attempting to replace Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was appointed to the Senate in January. The close result was expected, as the playing field seemed to be evened by the Republicans' 70,000 voter registration advantage and recent election history on the side of Democrats.

En route to a 24-point victory in November, Gillibrand won every county in the district, including Saratoga, where she doubled her opponent's vote total. Saratoga is the district's largest county, and contains twice as many registered Republicans.

This time, Tedisco took Saratoga by 5,000 votes, Greene by 1,000, and two others by less than 100 votes.

The two-month drag race packed action into a short amount of time, and both parties dropped plenty of resources into the district. It was defined early by the partisan divide on the economic stimulus bill, as Murphy continued to hammer Tedisco for refusing to take a side. At the same time on Capitol Hill, House Republicans voted unanimously against the Democrat-written package.

This left Tedisco to decide between sticking with his party and opening up an attack line for Murphy, or saying he disagreed with every single Republican in the House. Tedisco finally came out against the package, but Murphy had other ammunition -- Tedisco's 26-year record in the state Legislature.

Murphy is a political novice, but the Tedisco campaign hit him for his out-of-state roots and Wall Street ties, especially when news of AIG executives receiving tens of millions of dollars in bonuses hit the front pages. While the Murphy campaign consistently referred to Tedisco as a "career politician," the Tedisco camp called Murphy the "former Missouri lobbyist and Wall Street venture capitalist."

President Obama, Vice President Biden and New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand publicly backed Murphy with ads, e-mails and stump appearances. Tedisco got a visit from freshman Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), as well as assistance from national GOP leaders like Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Tedisco, however, felt obligated to turn down national party help after a mid-March Siena Research Institute poll found him leading by just 4 points -- something he blamed on the negative advertising coming from Washington.

"I'm taking over and we're going to run a campaign that relates to the people of the 20th Congressional District," he said at the time.

The unknown Murphy started at the bottom in polling and gradually increased his standing as more voters began to hear about him.

Murphy was unanimously nominated Feb. 1 by the 10 Democratic county chairmen in the district. Less than a week later, the Tedisco campaign released a poll that found the Republican leading by 21 points, with just 17 percent of respondents holding any opinion of Murphy.

Two weeks later, a Siena poll found Murphy down 12 points, with 40 percent of voters now holding a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. By March 12, Tedisco's lead was down to 4 points -- just outside the margin of error -- and Murphy took a 4-point lead in the Siena poll released Friday, four days before the election.

Both parties released statements immediately after it became clear the race would go on. The chairmen of the Republican and Democratic House campaign arms both expressed confidence in their candidate and sought to make them appear as the underdogs.

"As it stands now, there is a Republican advantage in the number of absentee and military ballots that have been returned," said Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "With that being said, Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a district that has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections."

"As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead," said Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Scott Murphy's strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans."

The candidates and their parties must now play the waiting game, with absentee ballots still to be counted and -- as the ongoing Minnesota Senate race has shown -- who knows what else.