No matter were you live in this country, it was hard to miss the epic 20th Congressional District special election battle between Republican Jim Tedisco and Democrat Kevin Murphy. When the dust settled, Murphy was declared the winner in what must be seen as a stunning upset in a district with at least 70,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
You will remember that Gov. David Paterson had to call a special election after he named Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate. The county leaders selected a tall, youngish, well-heeled businessman and family man named Scott Murphy to be the Democratic candidate. The Republicans chose one of their most prominent members, Jim Tedisco, who at the time was the Assembly Minority Leader. He had distinguished himself there by being a full-time annoyance to the prevailing and surging majority Democrats.
Murphy won in a squeaker—fewer than 500 votes—for several reasons. The first is that Barack Obama carried the district. Rather than helping him, Tedisco’s “Washington guys,” otherwise known as Republican political consultants, hurt him. He recklessly distanced himself from the president and his economic package.
Initially, Tedisco didn’t want to either support or disparage the Obama recovery plan and finally, being called out on his failure to choose a position, he said that he did not favor the Obama plan. This left him in the same chorus as the reactionary Republican caucus in Washington, who also didn’t have a real plan of their own.
Also much on the minds of the voters was the fact that Tedisco didn’t come from the district, though his wife had a residence in Saratoga, which is in the district.
Tedisco might have won if he had followed the lead of Gillibrand. She wisely took stock of what her voters wanted and gave it to them. If they wanted guns, she gave them guns and got an A from the National Rifle Association. If they didn’t want gay marriage, neither did she, and if they had trouble with the flood of recent immigrants, she was on board there, too. Had Tedisco said that the people wanted the new president to succeed and he did too, he might have won over just enough independents.
Now Tedisco will undoubtedly leave the Assembly where he would be consigned to the back bench since he resigned his leadership position. My bet is that he’ll become a lobbyist and make a lot of money. Maybe he’ll become a right-wing radio host. But he must be kicking himself for having listened to the dumb consultants. Obviously, he needed the money they brought, but it is never a good idea to sell your soul to people like that.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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