MOREAU, N.Y. Winter hangs on in the North Country, like a guest who has badly overstayed his welcome. With late March temperatures struggling to nose above freezing, the rolling landscape, save for the spruce trees, is a dead brown.
Its a fitting metaphor for the economy in upstate New York, which didnt profit during the recent boom years and is suffering disproportionately now in this deep recession. But thats the opening and closing argument for Scott Murphy, the Democratic nominee in next weeks special Congressional election that has made this quiet part of the world political ground zero for the past few weeks.
Weve had the same message from the very beginning, he says.
As he travels the sprawling 20th district, Murphy, a 39-year-old businessman making his first run for public office, is like a preacher, extolling President Barack Obamas stimulus package as the road to upstates economic salvation.
Im a business person, says Murphy, a one-time political operative who made a fortune investing in startup companies. I looked at an $800 billion spending plan and it was really scary. But I came to the conclusion that this was the right thing to do, the right thing for upstate New York.
Its said that campaigning is poetry while governing is prose, but sometimes campaigning can be prose, too. The other day, Murphy came to this town, wedged between the resort city of Saratoga Springs and the grittier Glens Falls, to talk to local officials and business owners about sewer lines.
Moreau officials hope to build a sewer line that runs 6.1 miles to the treatment plant in Glens Falls. It would be a boon for local businesses, they believe, like Mr. Bills Car Hop, a burger and ice cream joint whose owners, Bill and Michelle Smith, want to operate year-round but feel its too costly and risky to use a private septic system during the long, cold winter.
Under the stimulus plan, the town is eligible for millions of dollars in federal aid to make their dream come true.
Its the best environment [to fund the project] that weve had in 30 years, says Tim Burley, the town engineer.
Searching for Trends
The race between Murphy and State Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R) has in some ways been over-hyped. But perhaps that was inevitable.
Take the first competitive contest of the new election cycle, mix in new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steeles vow that this will be the place where the GOP begins its resurgence, add Murphys emphasis on the stimulus, and voila! theres a recipe for pundits to read an awful lot into the outcome.
But in the end, the race to replace appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who flipped the district into the Democratic column in 2006 after years of Republican dominance, is still just a special election. Turnout will be miniscule, meaning in the end the winner will be the person who pulled his voters to the polls, rather than the harbinger of any mighty trend.
The numbers suggest a relatively fair fight. Both candidates have raised more than $1 million for the two-month battle; Murphy dropped $250,000 of his own wealth into the campaign, Tedisco $200,000. There are 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district, but voters have gotten into the habit of voting for Democrats. Obama won the district by almost 3 points last year.
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