Rudy Giuliani goes upstate today to campaign for a fellow Republican who stands a good chance of recapturing a House seat for the GOP in upstate New York. The presence of such a heavy-hitter this early is a sign of just how important the race could be in reviving Republican spirits in the age of Obama.
New York Gov. David Paterson’s (D) appointment of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) to the state’s open Senate seat has precipitated a special election, which will occur in the Albany-area district on March 31. Republicans, for a change, are favored in this one, although their candidate suffered a setback over the weekend.
State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R) is the Republican in this race. A recent poll shows him leading his Democratic opponent by 12 points. Republicans in Washington and New York expect a closer race than 12 points in the end, and are trying to focus the party faithful’s attention on the race. Newt Gingrich went out of his way, when addressing CPAC, to urge those in attendance to donate $20 for NY-20.
Scott Murphy (D), Tedisco’s Democratic opponent, is a former Wall Street venture capitalist and lobbyist — Republicans have made much of the fact that he was once a registered lobbyist in the state of Missouri. Murphy has ample personal resources, and the Democratic Party is expected to provide significant support for him as well. Tedisco will probably be outspent.
The setback for Tedisco: Murphy has earned the ballot line of the Independence Party, making him the first Democrat ever to do so in the district. (In 2008, the Independence line delivered more than 8,000 votes for Republican Sandy Treadwell, who was crushed despite spending $6 million.) Tedisco will appear on both the Republican and Conservative Party lines.
“We think we’ve got the right guy, but we have anticipated all along that this is going to be a competitive race,” says Ken Spain of the NRCC, the GOP’s House election wing.
President Obama narrowly carried the 20th last year, and he enjoys a very high approval rating there. Still, the district has historically leaned Republican and went twice for President Bush.
Before Gillibrand, New York’s 20th District had been represented by Rep. John Sweeney (R) for four terms. But a tangential connection to Jack Abramoff, combined with the last-minute revelations of a domestic disturbance call at his home, proved fatal for Sweeney’s political career in 2006. Gillibrand defeated him, and with her moderate positions seemed poised to keep the seat for many years before she was appointed to the Senate.
Murphy comes from a far more liberal background than Gillibrand. While studying at Harvard, he penned and signed his name (with two others) to an editorial calling for the removal of ROTC from campus, on the grounds that “[t]he values enforced by the military — submission to authority, unquestioning obedience, and a hierarchy of power — are contrary to the University’s values of independence, thoughtful inquiry, and equality for all.” Interestingly, Murphy is now running for the former seat of Rep. Gerald Solomon (R), whose eponymous amendment of 1996 protected ROTC programs on campuses that receive federal funds.