Did NY-20's dead heat mean anything?

The special election that gripped a nation, or at least the nation’s political junkies, wound up providing an anti-climax.  With all of the Election Day ballots cast, Democrat Scott Murphy leads Republican Jim Tedisco by a whopping 65 votes out of over 150,000 votes counted.  Over 6,000 absentee and military ballots remain to be counted, and that won’t even start until after April 13th, the last day such ballots can be received and still count.

Some, like Jazz Shaw, say this looks like a replay of Minnesota’s Senate race, but that’s just wishful thinking in NY-20.  Why, we had a gap of 225 after almost three million ballots got cast.  When it comes to vacillation, we Minnesotans take a back seat to no one, pal.  I’d bet that NY-20 has its election settled before we do, too.

The big question before yesterday was what the results would mean.  After all, most people describe the district as fairly conservative on God, guns, and abortion, and that a Murphy win would be a triumph for Democrats.  However, this district went narrowly for Barack Obama last November (51-48), which belies the “conservative” label that some have applied to NY-20.  Kirsten Gillibrand won two elections to the House as a Democrat, including a 62-38 blowout win over her Republican challenger in November.  A Democratic hold here seems less like a triumph and more like survival for Democrats.

On the other hand, Tedisco went into this race with a substantial double-digit lead over Murphy.  Instead of immediately professing opposition to Porkulus, which would have resonated in this district, Tedisco took a long time to make up his mind about it, which Murphy skewered in campaign ads.  Guns and abortion never came up in the race despite Murphy’s vulnerability on the issues.  Losing steam in the manner that Tedisco did against a candidate significantly farther to the left than Gillibrand might look as though Republicans will fare poorly in the coming midterms.

I’m more inclined to call this a reflection of local organization than of national influence, regardless of who eventually wins.  If anything, the people that voted for Obama just got done doing so, and have not had enough time to get the kind of buyer’s remorse that would have hurt Murphy, who ran explicitly as an Obama supporter.  Democrats should worry that they lost a 2-1 advantage in this district, though, because Murphy will have to run for re-election if he does wind up winning it – and a better campaign will probably unseat him in the midterms.

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