Local politics, national headlines

Only a couple miles separated me from Tuesday’s special election (20 Congressional District, NY) to pick a successor to Kirsten Gillibrand, recently named to Hillary Clinton’s seat in the Senate. Living so close to the target area, I was able to watch much of the electioneering.

Living so close, I was unable to avoid it.

Election-night counts put Democrat Murphy about two dozen votes ahead of Republican Tedisco. So the election now will be decided by absentee ballots — more than five thousand of them — which won’t be counted for another two weeks. While we’re waiting to find out who won, three different items to consider.

1. Much of the back-and-forth of the campaign was not over the issues and personalities themselves, but over conduct of the campaign. Each accused his opponent of “negative” advertising. What they meant, though, was something like “smear” advertising. Look. There are essentially two kinds of political ads. Either you talk about yourself, or you talk about your opponent. If you talk about yourself, you’ll say something good. If you talk about your opponent, you won’t say something good. One is positive, the other is negative.

2. The 20th district is a gerrymandered dominantly-Republican district. The Republican candidate has been in state politics for thirty years and is well-known throughout the region. The Democratic candidate is a newcomer to the state, and has no experience in politics. Early on, no one thought Murphy represented a threat to Tedisco, but now he has a 25-vote edge. A referendum on Republican politicians in general? How did the the state Democratic Party fail to line up a well-known local guy/gal with political experience?

Clue: the Democrat Governor — David Paterson — suffers from Hamlet syndrome.

3. The Republicans started filing petitions and lining up lawyers before the polls even closed on Tuesday; the Democrats appear still to be scratching their heads. If — as seems highly possible — the final vote shows Murphy ahead, count on the GOP to mount a long-drawn-out barrage of legal challenges which may not put Tedisco in office, but will keep Murphy out of office for… well, look at the Coleman shenanigans in Minnesota, which may keep Franken from taking his Senate seat for years. (Yes, for years.)

Thought experiment: What might have happened in 2000 if the Gore campaign had been that fierce and dogged?

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