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Posted by on Feb 14, 2009 in Politics | 1 comment

N.Y. 20th: Meet Your Candidates

You may have thought that the 2008 election cycle was nearly over, (well, as soon as that whole Coleman – Franken thing gets ironed out) but you would be incorrect. Like some sort of political Rube Goldberg machine gone awry, President Obama’s appointment of Hillary Clinton opened up a Senate seat, which was then filled by Kirsten Gillibrand, removing her from her previous office. That means that we have yet another special election coming up on March 31 to select the next member of Congress from New York’s 20th District. Today we’ll take a brief look at the current contenders for this office.

On the Republican side we have Jim Tedisco, who just opened his new campaign office in Red Hook, New York. Jim is a former educator and long time advocate of child protection efforts who has worked in the New York State Assembly since 1982, serving as the minority leader since 2005. Prior to his statewide service, he was elected as the youngest Schenectady City Councilman at that time. In addition to championing fiscal responsibility in New York government (no easy feat) and attempting to get the dysfunctional budget process under control, much of Tedisco’s work focused on stopping the abduction of children, including publishing a book on the subject in 1996, “Missing Children: A psychological approach to understanding the causes and consequences of stranger and non-stranger abduction of children.”

On the stump, Jim comes across as a rather casual guy, gruff at times, with a kind of Jersey leaning, “Fuggidaboudit” mannerism. This isn’t necessarily a pejorative in the mostly rural and somewhat conservative leaning 20th. One potential area of trouble is that Tedisco lists Schenectady and Saratoga as his home and opponents are currently questioning whether or not he is truly a resident of the district he seeks to represent.

From the opposite side of the aisle, the Democrats are running Scott Murphy. If Tedisco is a career politician, Murphy comes to us as essentially a political neophyte. A graduate of Harvard, the 39 year old candidate is a career finance man. He helped start up some internet business operations, including an online gaming site and the Indian version of e-Bay before going to work for venture capital outfit, Advantage Capital Partners. Originally from Missouri, Murphy does list a couple of brief forays into the political arena, working for then Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan and briefly filling in as deputy chief of staff to Governor Roger Wilson.

One of the chief selling points for the Democrats seems to be Murphy’s ability to generate campaign cash and his local family connections and popularity. While his web site has since scrubbed the pertinent quote, an area blogger (and Murphy supporter) captured one of the candidate’s early rationales for his candidacy.

I can raise the millions of dollars necessary to win this race and keep it in Democratic hands, talk-the-talk to Wall Street and create the jobs we need on Main Street. Because I’ve done it all. I have a family so large I probably start with 1% of the vote! In the words of our President, ‘I’m fired up and ready to go!‘”

Who will the favorite be in this contest? This is likely a tough call to make. A special election rarely has a large turnout, so nearly anything can happen. Holding it in late March, when end of season winter storms often strike and rural, agricultural workers are preparing for the Spring season could also present get out the vote challenges. The district is traditionally conservative in nature, with Gillibrand being the first Democrat to hold the seat in some time, and even she ran as a serious blue dog. Her victory in 2006 came at a time when Republican popularity was plummeting during one of the worst periods of the Iraq war. She was also buoyed in 2008 by a larger than usual turnout for President Obama.

It remains to be seen if those favorable conditions will carry through this spring and put Murphy in the seat or if unrest over the state and country’s financial future (combined with scandals plaguing New York’s Democratic Party) will flip it back to GOP control. We’ll keep an eye on the local media for you as the final month and a half of this campaign plays out.

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