Too close to call

TOO CLOSE TO CALL…. Considering the Republican nature of the district, the heavy spending in support of the Republican candidate, and the fact that few in the district had ever heard of Scott Murphy before February, I suspect Democrats are quite pleased with the initial results from the special election in New York yesterday.

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.

Now, I’m still reluctant to make sweeping assumptions about what the results tell us about the national political scene. As I argued yesterday, this wasn’t a national referendum; it was a competitive House race. A Tedisco win isn’t evidence of a Republican resurgence, and a Murphy win isn’t evidence that President Obama will enjoy smooth sailing for the indefinite future.

But those hoping to use the race for bragging rights have at least some material to work with. John Judis argues, for example, “Murphy’s election night edge doesn’t suggest that the Democrats will romp in 2010. Too many things can happen in the meantime. But if Murphy had lost by a significant margin — say 56 to 44 percent — it would have shown that within a district that Obama carried in 2008, there was a significant undercurrent of discontent with his presidency and his policies. That would have emboldened Obama’s opponents.”

The Politico‘s report also offered a Democratic-leaning spin to the early results: “The first election to take place during the Obama administration was a push, with neither side winning big or losing big. But that in itself ranks as a defeat of sorts for the GOP, which invested heavily in the race. Republicans made this race a referendum on President Obama, his stimulus plan and big government policies. But voters divided almost exactly down the middle, showing almost no sign they wanted to brush back the new administration.”

Regardless, what happens next? Republicans went to court before the polls even closed, so we can expect a court fight that could last a while.

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