- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

Democrat Scott Murphy has narrowly won the special election for New York’s open House seat in a closely-watched contest that handed Republicans another bitter defeat, adding to their sizeable losses in the 2008 elections.

Republican Jim Tedisco, former Minority Leader in the State Assembly, conceded the race on Friday, three weeks after the March 31 vote finished in a virtual dead heat. The seat in what was once a Republican stronghold opened up when Democratic incumbent Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to fill the Senate seat of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Murphy, a 39-year-old businessman making his first run for elective office, gradually pulled away from his opponent in a lengthy and contentious count of several thousand absentee ballots.

Democratic leaders said the result in a conservative-leaning district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats by 196,000 to 125,000 was a victory for President Obama and his policies.

“Scott Murphy’s long-awaited victory is proof positive that Americans, even in this heavily Republican district, support the president and want him to succeed. The result is a repudiation of the failed policies of the past touted by the Republicans,” said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“Republicans decided to make this race a referendum on President Obama’s leadership of the economy and his jobs and economic recovery plan — and given the result we are thankful that they did,” the DNC chief said.

The DNC released a flash video called “Broken Steele” that showed how much Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele was “gambling” on winning the House seat.

But in a statement, Mr. Steele was unbowed, noting that the district had been carried by a long line of Democrats in statewide elections, including Mrs. Clinton, Sen. Charles E. Schumer and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

“The Republican Party must be competitive in districts like N.Y. 20 if were going to regain our congressional majorities. While we were unsuccessful in this race, the combined efforts of our candidate, the national and state parties and [National Republican Congressional Committee] show that the GOP is going to invest the resources necessary to regain our majority in the House of Representatives,” Mr. Steele said.

Republican leaders said the defeat showed the party still has a long way to go toward rebuilding its base and improving its tarnished political brand.

“After a long, hard-fought race, the final result of the New York special election reinforces what our party has known since November — we have our work cut out for us when it comes to winning in Democratic-held districts,” said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Still, Mr. Sessions said, the relative closeness of the race demonstrates that the party was making headway in its comeback drive.

“Just a few short months ago, President Obama carried this district and Kirsten Gillibrand won by an overwhelming margin against a well-funded challenger. For the first time in a long time, a Republican congressional candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters,” Mr. Sessions said.

Still, the district had been in Republican hands for almost three decades until Mrs. Gillibrand defeated Rep. John Sweeney in 2006, and the 59-year-old Mr. Tedisco was far better known than his younger rival.

“The GOP, particularly embattled Chairman Michael Steele, made the race a huge priority and pointed to it as a potential turning point for the party which had been drubbed in two consecutive elections,” said DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse in a party memo sent out Friday.

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