Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Whoda Thunk?

So the first "referendum" on President Obama's administration has come and gone. Or, maybe not gone...

A mere 65 votes separated the two candidates late Tuesday in a Congressional contest in upstate New York that received national attention and was widely seen as a referendum on the Obama administration's economic recovery efforts.

With all precincts reporting, the Democrat, Scott Murphy, a 39-year-old venture capitalist, led 77,344 to 77,279 over his Republican rival, Assemblyman James N. Tedisco, 58, for the seat vacated by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat. The turnout was surprisingly strong for a special election.

But 10,055 absentee ballots were issued — and 5,907 received so far, state election officials said — meaning the election cannot be decided until the paper ballots are counted. Moreover, it is likely that the count may not begin until at least April 6, said Bob Brehm, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections.

Republicans held out hope of recapturing the seat in the 20th Congressional District, which is heavily Republican and stretches from the Catskills through the Albany suburbs to the Adirondacks. Democrats, meanwhile, waited to see whether their standard-bearer, a first-time political candidate who campaigned on his support for the federal stimulus package, could pull off an upset.

In that last paragraph, you read the spin for both sides. Democrats recognizing that this is a heavily Republican district, despite the fact that the last incumbent was a Democrat (now-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand). Republicans trying to paint this as some sort of upset because Obama's party did not win a clear majority.
Either way this story ultimately breaks, we've not heard the end of it. Should Murphy lose, the seat will be recontested next year. Should Tedisco lose, he has his Assembly Minority Leader job to fall back on, and can spend the next year campaigning heavily.
Indeed, the district ought to be prepared for that in either case. The district has demonstrated that despite its heavily Republican roots, it can vote Democratic pretty easily. It went for Clinton, Spitzer and Gillibrand in 2006, Obama in 2008, and appears to have chosen Murphy in 2009.
It has been said that there are parts of upstate New York which are so red they make Alabama look liberal. This is not one of those, but it could give Kentucky a run for its red money. Conversely, this district has not shown fealty to the Democrats, either, voting in two rock stars (Clinton and Obama) and electing one Congresswoman by dint of the abject failure of the previous incumbent to comport himself and represent the district with any kind of dignity.
Indeed, the name that stands out in that list of Democrats who won recent votes in the 20th is Eliot Spitzer, but remember he was running after a hugely successful incumbency at Attorney General for the state (he was years ahead of the curve in exposing AIG's fraudulent behaviors) and the governor's seat was vacant.
Clearly, then, the spin for both sides is right and not mutually exclusive. This is a bellwhether election, but not to the degree the Republicans would want us to believe. And this district is heavily Republican, but clearly not married to the idea of voting back in a party that ruined the state and the nation after decades of rule.
At least not just yet.
The real story, in fact, is that Tedisco had a twelve point lead as late as January in this race, and lost it all back and then some to Murphy. This sums up the recent political history of this district in a nutshell.