Parties have a lot riding on N.Y.-20 race

The outcome of Tuesday’s special-election race in upstate New York will have major ramifications on party leaders inside the Washington Beltway.

The party that wins the election to fill the House seat vacated by now-Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election MORE (D) will seize political momentum. But it will also inflate — or puncture — the power base of high-profile politicians on both sides of the aisle, including President Obama.


Should Democrat Scott Murphy win, it will be seen as a boost for Obama, and for his economic stimulus package. And it would be another indication that Republicans are still picking up the pieces from the 2006 and 2008 elections.

If Republican Jim Tedisco triumphs, the GOP will claim that Obama’s policies are unpopular and that it is starting the long road back to reclaiming control of Congress.

Special elections can be harbingers of shifting tides. In May 1994, Rep. Ron Lewis’s (R-Ky.) victory in a special election to replace a longtime Democrat was a sign of what was to come six months later.

Democratic special-election wins in GOP-held seats in Illinois, Mississippi and Louisiana in 2008 were a prelude to the party’s major pickups last fall. Yet the GOP win in the 2006 special election to replace ex-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) provided a false, and temporary, sense of security for Republicans.

Recent polls have shown that Murphy, a venture capitalist, has a slight edge over Assemblyman Tedisco. But neither candidate seeking the suburban Albany seat has broken out of the low-40 percentage range, making turnout even more important than usual.

But regardless of who shows up at the polls, the implications of Tuesday’s election are much broader than whether Democrats end up having 254 or 255 seats in the lower chamber. The Murphy/Tedisco race is psychological for both parties, with much on the line for so many of Washington’s powerbrokers. A breakdown of the personalities and the policies follow.

•  President Obama. The president hasn’t done much to help Murphy in a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democratic voters by a margin of 70,000. Obama waited until last week to endorse Murphy, and has certainly not gone out of his way to keep the seat in Democrats’ hands. But the outcome of the race will be viewed as a referendum on Obama, who carried the district by three percentage points in November, according to data compiled by

• The economic stimulus. A win for Murphy, who has played up his support for the stimulus legislation, would be a significant win for the controversial $787 billion law. Tedisco’s meandering stance on whether he would back the measure coincided with Murphy’s rise in the polls. Tedisco’s final “no” position on it, however, was helped by this month’s AIG bonus scandal, because the stimulus failed to thwart those payments.

•  Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). For Van Hollen, who gained a net 24 seats as head of the DCCC in the 2008 cycle, the challenge is to stand out from his predecessor, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The race will be Van Hollen’s first test without Emanuel looking over his shoulder. Van Hollen’s investment of nearly $600,000 in the race through Thursday will be scrutinized for its effectiveness, especially with the DCCC mired in debt. A win could aid Van Hollen’s desire to advance up the Democratic leadership ladder.

•  Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele. The GOP is starving for a high-profile victory, and the new party chairman has highlighted the race as the first step to the party’s recovery. “Some have advised me to downplay this race in case we lose. NONSENSE. We have to do all we can to win it. If we were to end up on the short end, I still want us to have ‘left [it] all on the field,’ ” Steele wrote to GOP insiders on March 19.

Steele is clearly focused on the race. He has transferred $200,000 to the New York GOP and paid for a television advertisement on Tedisco’s behalf while also traveling to campaign with the candidate and to hold a fundraiser in New York City. A Tedisco win, coupled with Steele’s impressive fundraising numbers, would make Republicans stop talking about his high-profile gaffes this year.

•  National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas). Sessions has spent more than $800,000 supporting Tedisco through March 26, according to Federal Election Commission data, and he has called in some serious favors: More than 80 GOP members of Congress have given Tedisco money, and party leaders like Reps. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLongtime House parliamentarian to step down Five things we learned from this year's primaries Bad blood between Pelosi, Meadows complicates coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ohio), Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Hill's Campaign Report: Florida hangs in the balance Eric Cantor teams up with former rival Dave Brat in supporting GOP candidate in former district Bottom line MORE (R-Va.) and others have traveled to the district to hold events for Tedisco.

Having spent more than three times as much as the RNC on the race and having sent so many members to help out, Sessions is betting big on snaring the seat. A win would help the NRCC climb out of debt by triggering a fundraising boost. A loss would be the NRCC’s fourth-straight special-election loss in a conservative-leaning district. In short, the takeaway would be: more of the same from the NRCC.

•  House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio). BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLongtime House parliamentarian to step down Five things we learned from this year's primaries Bad blood between Pelosi, Meadows complicates coronavirus talks MORE, who has encouraged members of his conference to give time and money to Tedisco, has also played up the race’s importance. The House minority leader even highlighted the race during his high-profile speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year. Boehner pointed the finger at then-NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) for last cycle’s failures. But Boehner endorsed Sessions over Cole to head the NRCC this cycle, and Cole subsequently dropped out. House Republicans have lost a net of 54 seats since Boehner won his leadership race in 2006. If Murphy wins, Boehner won’t have a lot of excuses left.

•  Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFears grow of chaotic election Trump taps Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court, setting up confirmation sprint Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink MORE. For Kaine — the Virginia governor who nearly became Obama’s running mate last year — the New York race is his first chance to stand out from his predecessor, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Yet Kaine hasn’t spent big on the race, a decision that runs counter to Dean’s “50-state strategy.” There have been whispers that Kaine can’t run the DNC and the Commonwealth of Virginia at the same time. That chatter will intensify should Tedisco win.