Given both parties spending, the personal appeal and profile of Murphy, the excellent Democratic advertising and the fundamental competitiveness of the district to say nothing of the popularity of both Obama and Gillibrand, and Gov. David Patersons (D) delay in declaring the seats vacancy it isnt surprising that Murphy started behind but closed the gap in the race.
Third, I cant see why Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine would be confident that Murphy will expand his lead. I dont know who will eventually win, but more Republican than Democratic absentee ballots have been received, according to GOP sources.
Finally, the returns have something bigger to say about the political environment, and both parties have reason to take away something positive from the dead heat.
Often, special elections are opportunities to send a message to the sitting president a message of restraint and caution. We dont trust you completely, so we are sending someone of the opposition to Congress to keep an eye on you, is how Id put it.
No matter who ends up winning this race, that didnt happen in the 20th district. The president remains very popular in the district, and even some Republicans believe that voters there backed Murphy as a way of indicating their support for Obama and their willingness to give him more time.
While Murphy and the DNC injected the president heavily into this race (through advertising) and said the contest was a referendum on the presidents economic agenda, there is little evidence of a strong anti-Obama vote. On the other hand, a tie isnt a huge vote of confidence for the presidents economic agenda, either.
The worry for Democrats is that the presidents numbers are so high that they have nowhere to go but down. And if that happens, districts like this will be harder to hold in 2010.
More importantly, think what this election would have been like for Republicans if it had occurred last November. Murphy would have buried Tedisco by 6, 8 or maybe 10 points.
The absence of George W. Bush as a factor in this race helped Tedisco, and it suggests that while Republicans certainly havent turned the page on the past eight years and still have plenty of damage to repair, they have hit the bottom and are starting to bounce back. That is good news for the GOP.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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