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Dem. Scott Murphy & Rep. Jim Tedisco
Dem. Scott Murphy & Rep. Jim Tedisco

20th Congressional District special election a "battle royale"

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State Republican leaders are urging Governor David Paterson to call a special election as soon as possible in New York's 20th congressional district. The seat has been vacant for two weeks, following Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand's rise to the Senate. Congressman John McHugh, National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican candidate Jim Tedisco are also calling for a quick vote. In a statement, Governor Paterson, a Democrat, suggested that he would take his time scheduling the special election and he indicated that the vote wouldn't come until mid-March. Brian Mann spoke about the race with Martha Foley.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Air script:

Martha Foley: Brian, what's the thinking?  Why are Republicans so eager, and Democrats seeming to slow things down?

Brian Mann: Democrats have won this seat twice, in 2006 and 2008 - but they're not sure how they're going to do it again.  Kirsten Gillibrand did well here, but there are more than 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. 

Also, Republicans sort of have a campaign infrastructure already in place, in the form of powerful county party committees and hundreds of local Republican officials.

And James Tedisco, the Assembly minority leader who's now the candidate, has a huge rolodex - during a fast election-cycle, he can call up a lot of donations and party support overnight.

Democrats don't have any those advantages, so newcomer Scott Murphy - an investment  want as much time as possible to prepare. And state law allows the Governor to take his time here - it's really up to him.

Martha Foley: Let's talk about these two candidates for just a moment.  James Tedisco's name most people know - he's been a fixture in state politics for a long time.

Brian Mann: Right, he's been the Republican leader in the Assembly for almost five years.

Which is a fact that's drawn some criticism in party ranks, because he's part of the old Republican establishment that just hasn't done very well over the last decade. 

So this will be a test for him, to prove that he can step up and win an election like this.  It's worth noting, too, that if he wins that will mean a shake-up in the Assembly.

Another possible negative is that he comes from Schenectady, outside the district - but he but says he'll move if he wins.

Martha Foley: And how about Scott Murphy.  From your old hometown, Columbia, Missouri?

Brian Mann: That's right - Murphy is a venture capitalist - he runs Advantage Capital Partners in Glens Falls and according to his bio has started a number of internet firms.  But he also worked for Democratic Governors back in Missouri, serving as former Governor Roger Wilson's chief of staff.  So he has political roots as well.

Martha Foley: For those interested in the issues, not just the horse race -- do we have any idea about the political positions of the two? How well the district would be represented?

The 20th congressional district was supposed to be one of the highest-profile battlegrounds in the country last year - instead Kirsten Gillibrand sort of walked away with the win.  How about this special election?  A lot of national interest?

Brian Mann: This time, the national spotlight is definitely turned on.  One of the first things Michael Steele did last week after being chosen as chairman of the National Republican Party was to fly out to Albany to meet with James Tedisco. 

Steele has predicted that the race will be a "battle royale" and he says a victory would send "a powerful signal" to the country that the Republican Party can still compete in the Northeast.  The Republicans are feverish to win back this seat.

Meanwhile, a national spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Ryan Rudominer has relocated to Albany  where he'll serve on Scott Murphy's tream for the duration.   Murphy was in Albany last week meeting with top Democrats and almost certainly asking for money.

I think the money question will be key - how much are Democrats willing to invest to try to hold this seat?

Martha Foley: This has already gotten a little nasty, a sign of things to come probably?

Brian Mann: Yeah, Republicans are claiming that Scott Murphy's companies didn't always pay their taxes on time - and Democrats are claiming that James Tedisco charged taxpayers thousands of dollars for travel to Albany, even though he only lives in Schenectady. 

Martha Foley: So what's the early handicapping here.  Given Tedisco's better name recognition - and what looks like better organization - will this be competitive?

Brian Mann: It's interesting - some pundits - including the Albany Times-Union Capital Confidential blog - are pointing to the Darrel Aubertine's success as a sign that in the current political climate Democrats can win these special elections even in places where they have hurdles, like a voter-registration deficit.  

But Darrel Aubertine was an established name-brand politician.  This is Democrat Scott Murphy's first political campaign ever - so he'll have to hit the ground sprinting and prove that he has some real talent at this game.

Martha Foley: Thanks, Brian.

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