Democratic businessman comes from nowhere to defeat Republican Jim Tedisco after absentee ballots signal victory

Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Saturday, April 25, 2009

GLENS FALLS -- Three months ago, Scott Murphy was a successful Glens Falls businessman who you had probably never heard of. On Friday, he became New York's newest congressman-elect.

Murphy's status became official with Republican Jim Tedisco's concession in the extended ballot count in the 20th Congressional District.

"I look forward to rolling up my sleeves in Washington to bring jobs, opportunity, and prosperity back to Upstate New York," Murphy said.

But on Friday evening, the congressman-elect's more immediate ambitions were greeting supporters in downtown and heading to Pizzeria Uno for dinner with his wife and three children.

Murphy praised Tedisco for his "gracious" exit, and said it was the voters' embrace of his business experience that won the election. "I never expected the count to go on for three weeks, but I was always confident we would win."

Murphy said his family will stay in Glens Falls while he commutes to Washington, D.C. He plans to ask for seats on the Agriculture and Finance committees. No date has been set for his swearing-in, but Murphy said he expects it to happen next week.

Tedisco called Murphy to concede late Friday afternoon, and then issued a statement. "This was a closely contested election that perhaps lasted a little longer than anyone may have expected or wanted," Tedisco said.

"Ultimately, it became clear that the numbers were not going our way and that the time had come to step aside and ensure that the next Congressman be seated as quickly as possible. ... I wish Scott the very best as he works with our new President and Congress to address the tremendous challenges facing our country," he said.

The current unofficial tally in the 20th District gives Murphy a 399-vote lead, with roughly 700 ballots not yet counted. Lawyers from both campaigns will return to court on Monday to receive instructions for the remaining ballots.

Tedisco's concession will leave a few electoral issues unresolved -- particularly the question of residency for second-home owners in the district.

"I'm a purist. I hate to see any vote cast not properly cast. But I'm also a realist, and I realize the judge is not going to litigate academic matters," said attorney John Ciampoli, who represented the state Republican Party during the count.

Tedisco's concession marks the end of a contest that began in late January, when Kirsten Gillibrand vacated the seat to become New York's junior senator.

Tedisco entered the race as the clear front-runner thanks to nearly 27 years in the state Assembly, most recently as the chamber's minority leader. A significant portion of his Assembly district -- 65,000 voters, he said -- was in southern Saratoga County, a portion of the 20th. Most of all, Tedisco had cultivated a public persona that people could relate to: an ordinary guy proud of saying he would never be a millionaire, a scrappy fighter who nevertheless cried at the memory of his hard-working, blue-collar dad.

Democrats, meanwhile, seemed to have no obvious candidate to turn to. More than 30 names were floated, from a onetime hockey star to a former TV anchorwoman. The national Democratic Party was initially slow to invest in the traditionally Republican district.

Murphy, a millionaire venture capitalist who had never run for office, came to the table with $350,000 in campaign contributions, and offered to put $250,000 of his own money in the race. He had virtually no name recognition in the district, but he quickly harnessed his two strongest assets: an large extended family with deep roots in the North Country, and President Barack Obama's popularity.

He shot campaign commercials touting the close family ties with his wife's family in Hudson Falls. He supported the federal stimulus plan, and rode the coattails of Gillibrand and the new president.

The district favors enrolled Republicans by more than 70,000 votes: 125,486 Democrats, 196,118 Republicans, and 118,364 unaffiliated voters were registered to vote as of last November's election.

But Murphy defied expectations by closing Tedisco's early double-digit lead in pre-election polls. By the time voting began the morning of March 31, the race was a dead heat.

And except for the slimmest of margins, that's the way it stayed.

Hours after the polls had closed, Murphy went to bed with a slim 59-vote lead, but thousands of uncounted absentee, overseas and military ballots made the race too close to call.

In the weeks that followed, both campaigns fought for every vote. Day after day, the razor-thin margin would inch up or down. But this week, there were signs that the end was near: The Tedisco campaign had been banking on absentee ballots from Saratoga County to provide the GOP candidate with enough votes give him a decisive lead to end the contest, but the bump didn't materialize.

And as the disputed ballots began to be counted, the margin continued to climb in Murphy's favor.

From a legislative standpoint, the 20th Congressional District race changes little for either party in the House, where Democrats have a comfortable majority. Tedisco's concession stands in stark contrast with the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, which remains unresolved five months after the November election. If Franken is sent to Washington, Senate Democrats will be one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority.

Democrats were quick to portray Murphy's victory as a thumbs-up for Obama's young presidency.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, Virginia's governor, said Murphy's win shows voters "support the President and want him to succeed, and the result is a repudiation of the failed policies of the past touted by Republicans."

For Republicans, the race represented an opportunity to break the Democratic tidal wave that has swept the country since the 2006 congressional elections.

"Barack Obama is still enjoying a honeymoon with the media and support from a majority of voters," said state GOP Chair Joseph Mondello. "Republicans have come a long way back since last November's Obama tsunami. Unfortunately, in this race, just over two months into the new administration, we fell a handful of votes short of our goal."

Tedisco's loss could have a significant fallout for Republican leaders from the very top of the party on down. The GOP has lost control of every statewide elective post, seen losses in Congress and its minority in the Assembly, and this past election lost control of the state Senate, which Republicans controlled for all but one of the past 70 years.

National Republican Chairman Michael Steele inserted himself into the race early, calling it "battle royale" and throwing significant national resources into the Tedisco effort.

By Election Day, the National Republican Congressional Committee had spent more than $800,000 and the Republican National Committee had spent $275,000. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had spent nearly $600,000 and the Democratic National Committee doled out $10,000, according to FEC filings.

With Tedisco's loss, Republicans control three House seats statewide. New York is expected to lose one congressional seat after 2010 due to redistricting -- a process that will be controlled by Democrats, if they can maintain control of the state Senate and Assembly in next year's elections.

Irene Jay Liu can be reached at 454-5081 or


The tally

The current unofficial tally in the 20th Congressional District:

Scott Murphy: 80,420

Jim Tedisco: 80,021

Difference: 399

Source: State Board of Elections


"Ultimately, it became clear that the numbers were not going our way and that the time had come to step aside."

JIM tedisco