GOP already lost N.Y.-20

When Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate in January, Republicans rejoiced. Dejected and demoralized from their drubbing last November, they suddenly had an opportunity to pick up a momentum-grabbing victory in a House seat that heavily favored them.

Gillibrand first won New York’s 20th congressional district in 2006, in the wake of revelations that incumbent Republican John Sweeney had physically abused his wife. Prior to that, the seat had consistently voted Republican since the 1970s — and given the 71,000-registered-voter advantage held by the GOP, it was easy to see why. Every New York state Senate district and almost all the Assembly districts within the borders of the 20th were held by Republicans — including that of Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, the GOP nominee for the special election to replace Gillibrand.

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With few local elected officials to choose from in the GOP stronghold, Democrats tapped an untested rookie candidate — the politically unknown venture capitalist Scott Murphy — to take on Tedisco. The first National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) poll of the race, in early February, showed Tedisco leading by 21 points, 50-29. Election prognosticator Stu Rothenberg wrote in February that “Gillibrand’s 2008 reelection made this district look more Democratic than it really is” and that “without her incumbency, Democrats will have a tough time holding the seat.”

Not satisfied with merely taking the seat, Republicans decided to craft their seemingly inevitable win into a propaganda victory, spinning the campaign as a referendum on Obama and his agenda. “This election ... is a giant opportunity for us to let America know that America is on our side,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, under fire from his losing battle with Rush Limbaugh and a string of disastrous media appearances, said he was in the “business of winning seats” and staked his chairmanship on the race. “This will be a battle royale,” he said. “We’ve come to play and we’ve come to win.” Eighty-two Republican House members wrote checks for Tedisco, leading a NRCC spokesman to brag, “This is not only an indication of Jim Tedisco’s strength as a candidate, it’s proof that members are invested in our overall plans to fight back to the majority.”

Republicans were certainly invested in the race. The RNC spent $280,000 compared to $10,000 from the Democratic National Committee, and the NRCC invested $871,681 to the DCCC’s $591,591. Outside forces favoring Tedisco dumped $2.06 million into the race, compared to just $1.23 million from pro-Murphy groups. And Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, among others, lent their fundraising heft to their party’s candidate.

Given the money, the candidate and the district, the election should’ve been a slam-dunk. But Tedisco was a … how do you say? Oh, yeah: Republican. And after hemming and hawing for weeks when questioned about whether he’d support Barack Obama’s stimulus package, Tedisco’s final answer — “No!” — was proof to his district’s voters that he would not stand up as an independent, responsible voice for his district in Congress.

The election-night vote was a dead heat — Murphy led by an impossibly tight 65 votes. While a vote re-canvass has slightly increased that lead, the final victor won’t be decided until after April 13, when about 6,000 absentee ballots will be counted. Election officials are waiting for overseas and military absentee ballots to arrive, as required by law.

So while both sides lawyer up in anticipation of the inevitable litigation, Republicans have already lost — because clearly, the Republican brand is still toxic enough to stink up even the most promising of pickup opportunities.



Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .