- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The first electoral clash of the age of Obama finished in a dead heat, with uncounted absentee ballots now to decide the fate of the intensely watched race for an open House seat representing upstate New York.

In unofficial results, Democratic businessman and political newcomer Scott Murphy claimed a lead of just 65 votes out of more than 144,000 cast over veteran Republican state legislator Jim Tedisco, with all 610 precincts reporting. The race will be decided by the estimated 10,000 absentee ballots still to be counted, with the victory hinging on which party was able to organize its forces more effectively.

The final result may be slow in coming, with a recount a real possibility. In addition, the New York Board of Elections set an April 7 deadline to receive absentee ballots sent from overseas and from military personnel, an extended grace period because of the accelerated schedule of the special election to fill the seat.

While the race will not affect the balance of power in Washington, the symbolism of the vote attracted major outside talent and funds as both parties tried to score an early morale-boosting win to set the tone for the 2010 elections.

Political analysts warned against reading too much into a single congressional district vote, saying factors such as the local economy and get-out-the-vote efforts could prove decisive.

But the race was inevitably seen as the first voter referendum since President Obama took office, with both national parties pouring large sums of money into the race. The fact that Mr. Obama’s centerpiece $787 billion stimulus plan emerged as a major issue in the campaign — Mr. Murphy embraced it; Mr. Tedisco opposed it — only heightened the national overtones of the race.

Mr. Obama personally endorsed Mr. Murphy and signed an e-mail of support sent to 20th District voters over the weekend. Labor unions also spent heavily for Mr. Murphy.

New Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele also targeted the New York race as one of his top priorities. Many in the party see the race as a referendum on his organizational and strategic skills after a sometimes shaky start as RNC chief.

Each campaign raised more than $1 million for the race. Much of the outside advertising was highly negative, a factor voters cited in polls taken in the final weeks of the abbreviated campaign.

The New York seat opened when Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, resigned to serve the final two years of the term of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who left the Senate to become secretary of state.

The district, which includes the outskirts of Albany and several smaller towns in the Hudson River Valley, has long been a Republican stronghold, with the party holding a strong lead in registered voters. But Mrs. Gillibrand, a moderate Democrat and strong gun-rights advocate, captured the seat in 2006, and Mr. Obama narrowly carried the district in last year’s presidential vote.

Mr. Tedisco, a veteran legislator who has led the Republican minority in the New York state Assembly since 2005, has deep roots in the region. Mr. Murphy, a 39-year-old venture capitalist and Missouri native who moved to the district to be near his wife’s family, portrayed himself on the stump as a reliable vote in support of Mr. Obama’s agenda.

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