With Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco battling to a virtual tie in last night's special congressional election - Murphy currently tops Tedisco in this Hudson Valley/Adirondack district by as few as 25 votes out of 154,000 ballots, with as many as 10,000 absentees yet to be tallied - the Washington message mavens decided it was fruitless to try to frame the ambiguous results as a triumph/defeat for the Obama agenda or a triumph/defeat for the national GOP. They simply threw up their hands and retreated into defeaning silence...
What, you thought maybe I was serious about the spinners willfully going mute? On the contrary, they clearly don't hew to the traditional view that a tie is akin to kissing one's sister. They're in full message mode anyway, seeking to maximize whatever they can from the very real stalemate in New York's sprawling, heavily rural 20th congressional district.
Here's what I got this morning from the Republican National Committee: "With over 5,000 absentee and military ballots still left to count, this race is far from over. We are confident that the Republican advantage in these absentee and military ballots can put Jim Tedisco over the top, and the Republican Party will do everything in its power to make sure all lawful votes are counted. We are proud of Jim Tedisco and his campaign. Together, and in partnership with the Tedisco campaign, the New York Republican Party, the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee went toe to toe with the Obama Democratic machine that looked invincible in the Northeast just a few months ago, and showed that our party can and will be competitive in areas of the country where our party hasn’t won recently. President Obama, Senator Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Chuck Schumer all won this district, and a Democrat won the last two congressional races. The fact we are in a dead heat race in NY-20 means we are making progress as a Party standing firm for fiscal responsibility.”
Here's what I got from the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee: "From 21 points down to securing a majority of the vote tonight, congratulations to Scott Murphy, who ran an extraordinary campaign focused on his record as a successful businessman who helped to create jobs and his strong support for President Obama's economic recovery act. As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead. Scott Murphy's strong showing in this district, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000, represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans."
Parse those two statements, and it appears that the Democratic spin is a bit bolder. The Democrats claim that the results signify a "rejection" of GOP tactics - whereas the Republicans, while boasting that they are now "competitive," never make the assertion that the results are tantamount to a thumbs-down verdict on Obama. So it would appear that the Republicans are playing it cautiously, trying hard to steer clear of hyperbole...
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP arm that specifically targets House races, reportedly put out an email overnight, warning prospective donors that the Democrats might try to cheat their way to victory during the absentee tallies: "Don't Let 'em Pull a Franken...Democrats have almost succeeded in stealing the election in Minnesota and seating Al Franken. We cannot allow them to manipulate electoral results to seat another tax-troubled liberal."
One could easily make the argument that the GOP took the bigger hit in the New York race. Financially speaking, the national party invested in Tedisco far more heavily than the White House and the Democrats invested in Murphy. Tedisco, a veteran stateb legislator, had high name ID, whereas venture capitalist Murphy started the race as an unknown rookie. Tedisco also had a double-digit polling lead that dwindled to zip. And, as evidenced by recent history, Republicans generally win special elections when the Democrats hold the White House; they took three House races in 1977, during Jimmy Carter's first year, and they took a Senate race in 1993, during Bill Clinton's first year.
Nevertheless, a virtual tie would appear to deprive the Democrats of a resonantly triumphant story line - especially since the uncounted military ballots could erase their paltry lead. The Democratic spinners, while currently insisting that they'll officially prevail by a few hundred votes, might be better advised to ask their sisters to pucker up.
Speaking of that unending Senate election in Minnesota, the increasingly bereft Republican, Norm Coleman, took yet another blow yesterday in his bid (well financed by the national party) to keep the seat away from Al Franken. After losing the statewide recount, and after staging a seven-week trial in which he failed to demonstrate why the recount was wrong, Coleman has now been essentially rebuked by the three-judge panel that presided over the trial.
In yesterday's ruling, the judges said that a maximum of only 400 new absentee ballots can be opened and counted. Since Coleman trails by 225 votes, and since many of the ballots at issue hail from counties where Franken did well, the math is overwhelming that Coleman will remain the loser.
So it's clear that the national Republicans will quickly fold their cards and urge that Coleman heed the verdict and bow out gracefully...
Coleman is now weighing an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and, if spurned there, an appeal to the federal courts, possibly all the way to the Supremes. (This stance is a tad ironic, given the usual Republican complaints about "unelected" judges trumping the will of the people.) John Cornyn, who runs the GOP's Senate campaign operation, has indicated that the party might pursue this fight for "years" - notwithstanding the recent lament from Minnesota's Republican governor that the ongoing Senate vacancy has already "put Minnesota at a disadvantage."
On the other hand, if Coleman's election lawyers simply throw in the towel, maybe the national party can put them on standby for that overtime tally in upstate New York.
A fascinating development in Washington this morning:
President Obama's Justice Department has just requested that a federal judge throw out the corruption verdict rendered last October against Ted Stevens, the long-serving Republican senator who was defeated for re-election one month later.
Although Stevens was convicted on seven counts of trying to hide $250,000 in gifts and free renovations to his Alaska home, Attorney General Eric Holder said today that "it is in the interest of justice" to shelve the case - and to conduct an internal probe into serious allegations of widespread prosecutorial misconduct during and after the '08 trial.
In other words, the Bush Justice Department went after the senior Senate Republican, and screwed it up, big time...whereas the Obama Justice Department has now essentially set the Republican free.
And that's no April Fool's joke. That one should be filed under Irony.