- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

Republican and Democratic campaign officials each predicted victory Wednesday in the New York special congressional election, which remained near-tied and waiting to be decided by thousands of absentee and military ballots that have yet to be counted.

Democrat Scott Murphy’s paper-thin lead over Republican Jim Tedisco had shrunk to a mere 25 votes from 65 at the close of Tuesday night’s returns. Both men and their party’s election lawyers were preparing for what could be a lengthy and possibly contested process to count the remaining votes.

Both parties attempted to put their best spin on the inconclusive results in Tuesday’s balloting to fill the 20th District House seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate.

Democrats said Mr. Murphy’s strong showing in a swing district, after starting out 21 percent behind his better known Republican rival in the polls, demonstrated the popularity of President Obama’s economic recovery agenda which he championed throughout his come-from-behind campaign.

Republicans said Mr. Tedisco’s down-to-the-wire performance in a district that several top Democrats have carried in the last three elections - including Mr. Obama who carried it by 51-to-48 percent - showed that the Republican Party’s campaign message on spending and taxes still resonates with voters, despite last year’s severe election losses.

Officials in both parties said they expected to win the House seat as a result of their analysis of the remaining absentee ballots.

“Scott Murphy ran a terrific campaign and is ahead of the game right now. We’re very confident of the outcome with what we now know,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, at a news conference Wednesday at the Democratic National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill.

“Murphy had no political network to begin with and was running against Jim Tedisco, the well-known Republican leader in the New York Assembly who was favored to win. He had a 75,000 Republican advantage in the district,” Mr. Van Hollen said.

But Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said that “As things stand now, there is a Republican advantage in the number of absentee and military ballots that have been returned.

“Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a district that has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections. That is a testament to the strength of Jim’s campaign and the effectiveness of the Republican message of fiscal responsibility and accountability that Americans are demanding in the wake of the AIG scandal,” Mr. Sessions said.

While the 20th District was once a reliably Republican district, Republican Party officials on Wednesday said that is no longer the case. Mrs. Gillibrand carried it in 2008 by a margin of 62-38 percent. Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former governor, carried it by 57 percent, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer carried it in 2004 and Mrs. Clinton in 2006 by strong margins as well, they said.

More than 154,000 votes were cast Tuesday, which is unusually high in a special election when voter turnout tends to be low. Mr. Murphy and his supporters spent $2.6 million on the race, and Mr. Tedisco and allied groups spent $3.2 million. As of Wednesday, the official vote count was 77,217 for Mr. Murphy and 77,192 for Mr. Tedisco.

More than 100,000 absentee ballots were issued during the campaign and overseas voters have until April 13 to return them by mail.

Both sides have election law experts preparing to work on the upcoming count to ensure that all ballots are counted accurately and honestly.

The NRCC saw an opportunity Wednesday to raise campaign funds on the election stalemate, sending out a fundraising appeal to Republican donors that said, “Don’t let the Democrats steal this election. Democrats will do whatever they can to hold this seat. We need your support to … overcome the Democrats’ legal maneuvers.”

Two more special elections will be held in the next few months.

Chicago voters will go to the polls April 7 in the 5th District to choose who will succeed Rahm Emanuel, who vacated the seat to become Mr. Obama’s White House chief of staff. And California voters in the 32nd District will pick who will replace Democrat Hilda L. Solis, who is now Mr. Obama’s secretary of labor - the open-primary election is set for May 19, though a July 14 runoff also will be required if no candidate gets a majority.

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