24 April 2009

Murphy Defeats Tedisco

Assemblyman Tedisco has conceded defeat in his race for the open seat representing the 20th Congressional district of New York by calling and congratulating the winner, Scott Murphy. It has been nearly a month since citizens voted, but the margin remained so narrow throughout the process that officials waited as long as seemed realistic for the arrival of absentee ballots. A few weeks ago, the absentee factor seemed to be in Tedisco's favor, since more voters overall are registered as Republicans in this district. But just as the district voted in now-Senator Gillibrand regardless of registration statistics, so they've elected Murphy, albeit just barely.

Democratic leaders across the country are crowing that Murphy's victory represents an endorsement of President Obama's policies, but comparing Murphy's struggle to Gillibrand's landslide last fall might tell a different story. Too many local factors are involved, however, for this election to be seen as a simple referendum on Obama or anything else. Murphy actually rose steadily in polls after initially trailing the better known Tedisco by a big margin early in the game. Democrats could argue that for a "virtual unknown" to hold the seat against a well-known local pol proves that the district is going "blue." But what were people voting for when they pulled Murphy's lever. According to Tedisco's commercials, Murphy was a "Wall Street millionaire" guilty of endorsing undeserved bonuses and outsourcing jobs. Muphy's own ads portrayed him as a mere "businessman," in favorable contrast to "Albany politician" Tedisco. In other words, the campaign's negative ads added up to a role reversal, with the Democrat being characterized the way Republicans usually are -- and yet he won. That he only won by 399 votes (by the latest count) may illustrate voters' confusion rather than their resolution for or against anything in particular.

Tedisco is to be credited for not using Norm Coleman tactics and conceding as promptly as the protracted process allowed so that the district can be represented immediately. It won't surprise me, though, to hear local Republicans air the newly-popular conspiracy theory that explains every close vote lost by their party: ACORN stole it. But they may surprise me and take their cue from their candidate. Outside the district, however, the accusations are probably already in flight.

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