- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

Like several other freshman members of Congress, Rep. Scott Murphy has never before held public office. But the 39-year-old New York Democrat has 15 years of entrepreneurial experience he has said prepared him for the job.

Mr. Murphy narrowly edged out Republican state delegate Jim Tedisco in a special election to replace Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, beating the former state minority leader by 400 votes after a ballot-counting battle.

The Harvard-educated son of a teacher and a postal worker, Mr. Murphy had a short stint on Wall Street before he founded and later sold a software firm, which he left to become a venture capitalist.

Analysts say the young politician should follow in his predecessor’s footsteps to maintain Democrats’ hold on the 20th District, where registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by a margin of nearly 200,000 to 125,000. The largely rural district runs from the Adirondack Mountains, south of the Canadian border, to the mid-Hudson Valley, north of New York City.

“I think he should really take a page out of the Kirsten Gillibrand playbook and be omnipresent in the district,” said Bob Turner, a professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “We need to see you everywhere, every day in the newspaper, town meetings every weekend to meet as many constituents as possible.”

Mr. Turner, who teaches a state and local politics class, said voters in the 20th District “are not wedded to voting along party lines.”

“I think Kirsten Gillibrand really solidified this district. So many people met her, they liked her, they said, ‘Wow, she’s not a politician, she’s smart and she’s very honest.’ It produced tremendous loyalty,” Mr. Turner said.

Mrs. Gillibrand was tapped by New York Gov. David A. Paterson to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate. A conservative Blue Dog, Mrs. Gillibrand had a moderate voting record in the House.

“My heart broke when we lost her as our representative,” said Sheila Comar, Washington County Democratic chairwoman. Mrs. Comar said her support for Mr. Murphy was sealed after he made a visit to her home on his birthday and gave her his resume and talked for about an hour and a half.

“It was magical, the same intelligence, the same enthusiasm, the same grasp of the issues, the family dynamics,” she said.

Though Mr. Murphy has never held office, Mrs. Comar noted that he worked as an aide to Govs. Mel Carnahan and Roger Wilson of Missouri, eventually rising to be Mr. Wilson’s deputy chief of staff.

“He understands that whole dynamic,” she said.

Mr. Murphy did not respond to requests for interviews for this article.

Sworn into office in late April, Mr. Murphy has missed key votes this session including the economic stimulus package and President Obama’s budget. But he made the stimulus bill a major campaign issue by touting his support for the $787 billion bill, which his opponent, Mr. Tedisco, eventually said he would not have voted for.

Mr. Turner predicted that Mr. Murphy will be feeling the heat on future votes.

“I think there’s obviously going to be votes where he’s going to feel those cross-pressures the way Kirsten Gillibrand did. With a Democratic Congress controlled by liberals, again, what kind of room is there for moderates? The way we’ve heard him talk about immigration, about gun control, he sounds like he’s going to be a moderate, and I would just think by his background he would be temperamentally so.”

Republicans say they’re keeping a close eye on the freshman.

“Given how close and competitive the special election was, it will naturally be a seat we will have our eyes on for 2010,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We will be watching to see how closely Scott Murphy ties himself to Nancy Pelosi and the one-party rule in Washington that is mounting trillions of dollars in debt on future generations.”

Mr. Murphy is serving on the House Agriculture and Armed Services Committees, the same panels Mrs. Gillibrand sat on.

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