July 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

New York’s 20th: It Is a Little Like Kissing Your Sister

It’s overtime in New York’s 20th, where Democrat Scott Murphy’s lead over Republican Jim Tedisco is so small that absentee ballots will determine the district’s next Congressman.

But in some respects it doesn’t matter who wins the seat. The results tell us something about the public mood, the district and the art of running Congressional elections. And while both sides have reasons to feel good about the results, Tuesday night offered Republicans a small but important bit of evidence that they have turned the corner.

Both parties’ Congressional campaign committees and the Democratic National Committee sent out press releases moments after all the votes were counted Tuesday night. The Democratic releases were nearly identical talking points.

Democrats cited the GOP registration edge, argued Murphy had stormed back from more than 20 points down and asserted that they are confident that Murphy will expand his lead. Let’s look at the points one by one.

Much has been made of the Republican registration — far too much, even by those of us who should know better. You don’t need a doctorate in political science to know that registration is a lagging indicator and that what is important is how people usually vote.

Polling in the special election conducted for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s independent expenditure arm asked party ID in two different ways, and the results are eye-opening.

When asked how they were registered, 30 percent of district respondents said that they were registered as Democrats, 23 percent said that they were registered independents and 44 percent said that they were registered Republicans — a 14-point GOP advantage.

But when those same respondents were asked how they usually vote, 28 percent said they usually or always vote Democratic, 34 percent responded that they were ticket-splitters, and 34 percent said that they usually or always vote Republican — a much smaller 6-point GOP edge.

People in this district may be registered as Republicans, but many simply haven’t been voting that way. The district is competitive. President Barack Obama won it (51 percent to 48 percent), now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) was elected to represent the district twice (with 53 percent and 62 percent) and President George W. Bush won it with only 54 percent in 2004. Bush won a very similarly configured district (then the 22nd) with just 50 percent in 2000. Democrats Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Rodham Clinton carried this district in 2006, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D) won it two years earlier.

What does this mean? It means much, though not all, of this talk about the huge Republican nature of the district is baloney.

Second, talk of a stunning Murphy surge from far back is ridiculous and ignores normal campaign dynamics.

True, Murphy started behind Tedisco in initial ballot tests, but that was almost entirely because district voters knew Tedisco, a state legislator, but had never heard of political neophyte Murphy, who lived in Missouri until 2006.

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