The most closely-watched election test yet faced by the young Obama administration has yielded an inconclusive result with 100 percent of the vote counted.
In the upstate New York special election to replace former Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, who resigned to take the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Democratic newcomer Scott Murphy and Republican veteran Jim Tedisco were virtually tied with 100 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday night.
The race had shaped up as a referendum on the Obama administration’s attempts to rescue the U.S. economy.
Murphy had Obama’s endorsement and linked himself to the president’s policies.
Tedisco, while not as critical of Obama as many D.C. Republicans, positioned himself as the candidate who could carry to Washington an opposing message.
The final unofficial count from Tuesday night had it:
Murphy (Democrat-Working Families-Independence parties)– 77,344
Tedisco (Republican-Conservative) — 77,279
That’s a 65 vote difference.
Almost 6,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
But don’t wait up.
The race will remain unsettled until at least April 13, when the last of the absentee ballots that were dispatched to military and overseas voters must be returned.
If Murphy’s lead holds, it will be a significant victory for the White House in a traditionally Republican district. Gillibrand flipped it in the strong Democratic year of 2006 and held it in 2008. But Republicans have long portrayed the district as one they expected to take back, and pundits in general gave the GOP the advantage at the start of the special-election contest.
Murphy was a political unknown when the race began and worked from the start to make the contest a referendum on Obama’s policies.
Tedisco, the minority leader of the New York state assembly, began the race as one of the best known politicians in the region.
Murphy won six of the district’s ten counties Tuesday and held Tedisco to a 54-46 margin in Saratoga County, the Republican candidate’s supposed stronghold.
With nearly 6,000 absentee ballots that will essentially decide the race, the election will not be decided at least until April 13, which is the deadline for military and overseas ballots.
But whatever the final count, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, was claiming some sort of victory Tuesday night.
“From 21 points down to securing a majority of the vote tonight, congratulations to Scott Murphy who ran an extraordinary campaign focused on his record as a successful businessman who helped to create jobs and his strong support for President Obama’s economic recovery act. As votes continue to be counted, we’re confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead,” chirped Van Hollen. “Scott Murphy’s strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans.”
If after the almost inevitable recount this close race were to come down to one-vote advantage for Murphy, it would be a bummer for Tedisco. Because he lives outside the district, he could not cast a ballot Tuesday. (Federal law allows candidates to run in congressional districts where they do not live, so long as they reside in the same state.)