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« Strategy Memo: Budget Votes Today | Blog Home Page | TX-10: DCCC Targeting McCaul »

Spinning a District

In Tuesday's special election in New York's 20th District, the margin is now less than 50 votes, and thousands of absentee ballots remain to be counted. Meanwhile, as they position themselves for the fight ahead, both parties are distributing memos playing up the opposing party's strength in the district in order to make their own performance seem more impressive.

Democrats and Republicans, naturally, both want to appear to have over-performed, even if they lose. The result is a virtual orgy of cherry-picking of statistics to try to make the opposition look stronger.

A memo released by the Democratic National Committee yesterday described the district as "overwhelmingly Republican," "Republican-friendly," and "known for a generally rural conservative constituency." It also noted the district's Republican voter registration advantage and low percentage of minorities.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, in contrast, distributed memos claiming that it amounts to a "faulty argument" for Democrats to refer to NY-20 as a "Republican district." On the contrary, the district "has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections." The memo notes Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand won a lopsided victory there in 2008 despite her Republican opponent spending $6 million, an unusual amount for a House candidate to spend in a losing cause.

While the spin cycle was in full effect yesterday, the facts tell their own story. The area that is now the 20th District has historically been difficult for Democrats to win and Republicans currently hold a 70,000 voter registration advantage. But also true is that a Democrat has won the last two congressional elections in the district, including in 2008 by a 24-point margin. President Obama won the district by three points last year; President Bush won it by seven and eight points in his two national races.

Bottom line: Perhaps the only reliable conclusion is that, whatever factors were in play this week in this battleground district, one of them wasn't an overwhelming Obama honeymoon mood.