- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

HALFMOON, N.Y. (AP) | With polls tight, a Republican state legislator and Democratic venture capitalist battle daily over the economic-stimulus package in congressional race that’s seen as a referendum on President Obama’s policies and a test of Republican strength.

“What we should have done was go back to the drawing board, get a stimulus package that truly creates jobs, invests in infrastructure and the economy,” said Jim Tedisco, a Republican echoing Washington party leaders who almost unanimously opposed the $787 billion package.

Scott Murphy, conversely, stands with Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats who control Congress. “The right choice was for the federal government to help us through this crisis with the stimulus. This is the shock absorber that could start to turn the economy around,” he said.

Playing out in a sprawling upstate New York district, the first special election of Mr. Obama’s presidency is a priority for both parties. Money is flowing to the candidates. Party heavyweights are campaigning. Outside groups are involved.

Democrats and Republicans plan to use the results anyway as a measure of the popularity of Mr. Obama’s economic efforts. The outcome also will serve as a barometer for the beleaguered Republican Party and its new national chairman, Michael S. Steele.

Republicans hope to prove they can win after national defeats in 2006 and 2008. Mr. Steele, after a rough start in his new job, wants to quiet critics who doubt he can engineer victories. He has sent party workers to the district, campaigned for Mr. Tedisco and poured in $200,000. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent more than $343,000, including $329,000 for advertising opposing Mr. Murphy.

With foreclosures, unemployment and fears running high, voters clearly are divided over the stimulus.

The seat became vacant when Gov. David A. Paterson appointed Kirsten Gillibrand to serve the remainder of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s U.S. Senate term. The election is set for March 31.

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