- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009




Much of the Hudson River Valley, in all its magnificence, lies in New York’s 20th Congressional District. So does Saratoga Springs and its renowned racetrack, as do a host of small towns that should make this district quintessential Republican territory.

For two decades, the district was represented by conservative stalwart Gerald Soloman, whose vote often topped 70 percent. His Republican successor should have had the seat for life, but a series of bizarre personal incidents enabled centrist Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand to take the seat narrowly in 2006.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Gillibrand was appointed to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s U.S. Senate seat, and the special election to be held in the midst of the Washington/Albany spend-and-tax orgy would figure to have fueled a return of the 20th District to the safe Republican column.

It didn’t - and while the Democrat’s tiny lead with 6,000 absentee ballots to be counted makes the race too close to call, there are some obvious lessons Republicans had better learn if they hope to make 2010 a year of return to political viability.

“Bleed Us Dry” screamed the cover of the New York Post, which circulates widely in the district, on the day its voters went to the polls for the special election this week. “How tax hikes hit New Yorkers.” Inside the Post, highly respected columnist Fred Dicker described the newly approved “monstrously bloated, tax-and-spend plan … approved in Kremlin-like secrecy that ranks as one of the biggest betrayals in New York history.”

What was happening in Albany stunningly complemented events in President Obama’s Washington in recent months, where the pork-filled stimulus package united every single House Republican in opposition to Mr. Obama’s spending spree.

In the 20th District, Republicans could not have hoped for a better setup. Democratic candidate Scott Murphy endorsed Mr. Obama’s stimulus spending from the beginning. The president endorsed him. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made taped advertisements. The special election set up beautifully as a referendum on the outrageous spend-and-tax policies in Washington and Albany. Except for one problem.

For the bulk of the congressional campaign, Republican candidate Jim Tedisco couldn’t decide whether as a member of the House he would have been the only Republican to vote for the wasteful Obama stimulus package. I am not making this up. Mr. Tedisco refused to say he would have voted against the stimulus package - until the last days of the campaign.

How did the Republican Party end up with this guy? Mr. Tedisco is a former teacher (he holds a graduate degree in special education from the College of Saint Rose) who was elected to the New York Assembly in 1982. There he served 26 years before ending up as minority leader. Enough said.

He surrounded himself with Albany hacks for the congressional campaign - and even the infusion of national Republican money might not be enough to hand him a congressional seat he should have had on a political platter. Even if he wins on absentee ballots, he is hardly what the country needs in Washington.

Pollster John McLaughlin sees enormous potential for Republican candidates for Congress in 2010 - but his optimism is accompanied with a sobering warning. Republican candidates should not be linked to the party’s recently disastrous political past. And they had better have a reform vision for the future.

There has never been a time when Republicans more needed a Contract With America-type pact that would pledge an end to pork-barrel earmarks and oppose the spend-and-tax philosophy that has absorbed Mr. Obama’s Washington. All this will require vision - and planning - which ought not require rocket science to accomplish.

What happened in New York’s 20th District, however, illustrates the results when Republican functionaries are left on their own.

Kenneth Tomlinson, former editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, has spent extensive time in and around New York’s 20th Congressional District.

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