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Razor-thin NY House race goes to absentee count

Democrat candidate Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, who is running in the special election to fill Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s D-NY, vacant position in New York’s 20th Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives votes at A polling place with his daughter Lux Murphy as election Inspector
Democrat candidate Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, who is running in the special election to fill Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s D-NY, vacant position in New York’s 20th Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives votes at A polling place with his daughter Lux Murphy as election Inspector Karen Manuell checks his signature in Glens Falls, N.Y., Tuesday, March 31, 2009. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
( / AP)

After a frenzied, bruising special election, a New York congressional race that became linked to President Barack Obama’s economic recovery efforts won’t be decided for at least two more weeks.

Democrat Scott Murphy led Republican Jim Tedisco by a scant 65 votes out of more than 154,000 cast Tuesday.

After the count of machine votes in 610 voting precincts spread over the mostly rural, 10-county district, the unofficial count was 77,344 for Murphy to 77,279 for Tedisco. That puts the focus on the more than 10,000 absentee ballots mailed to voters who are registered in the district but were unable to vote in person on Tuesday.

It can be a laborious process to count all the paper ballots and those being mailed from overseas aren’t due in New York until April 13. A lawsuit filed by state Republicans Tuesday night required all ballots to be impounded to ensure accuracy. It’s not an unusual step in close elections.

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Of the ballots mailed out, nearly 6,000 were returned by Tuesday but most had not yet been counted.

The special election was marked by big name support – Obama for Murphy and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele for Tedisco – and negative attack ads that turned voters off, according to polls.

Democrats nationally treated the election as at least a moral victory Tuesday night because Murphy performed so well in the traditionally Republican District that has an edge of 75,000 registered voters.

“The people in Washington said it couldn’t be done,” Murphy said. “And the people in this room and all across the 20th district tonight said something very different.”

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Likewise, the White House portrayed the vote as a win for Democrats no matter the outcome because of the inroads they made.

“To even be competitive in a district like that, I think says a lot,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One as Obama traveled to London.

Republicans were also optimistic, claiming that their polling showed an advantage of about 1,100 absentee ballots sent to registered Republicans, but that couldn’t be independently verified.

“I believe, when the smoke clears, we’ll have won a tremendous victory,” Tedisco said.

Noting a dismal 2008 election cycle that saw three Republicans ousted from New York’s congressional delegation, Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, looked for the positive in Tedisco’s showing.

“For the first time in a long time, a Republican candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters,” Sessions said.

The candidates were running to replace Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate, in a race widely viewed as the first electoral test of Obama’s popularity and his economic policy.

Murphy, a businessman and political newcomer, and national Democrats staked his campaign on the strength of Obama and his economic policies, specifically his $787 billion stimulus plan.

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Tedisco, an Assemblyman for 27 years, attacked Murphy for supporting the stimulus plan, which he said allowed massive bonuses at the bailed-out insurer American International Group Inc.

Both candidates had financial support from their national parties and political action committees – mostly spent on increasingly negative television ads that seemingly saturated the airwaves, to the dismay of supporters of both candidates.

“I’m tired of candidates telling us what’s bad about the other person instead of what’s good about them,” said Ralph Liporace, a 53-year-old independent who voted for Murphy at the Brunswick Volunteer Fire Department.

Vincent Poleto, 21, of Brunswick, said he voted for Tedisco “because I’ve known him for years.”

“But I’m not happy about the negative campaigning,” he said.

Turnout was 32 percent, respectable for a special election with no statewide offices or big names on the ballot to attract more casual voters.

Murphy, 39, is a venture capitalist multimillionaire from Columbia, Mo. who now lives in Glens Falls, who has lived in New York for more than a decade. Tedisco, 58, is the GOP minority leader in the state Assembly who lives in Glenville, outside the congressional district, a fact used by Democrats during the campaign.

The diverse district stretches from the rural Adirondack Mountains, an hour south of the Canadian border, down to Dutchess County, about an hour north of New York City.

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Associated Press writers Jessica M. Pasko in Albany and Jennifer Loven aboard Air Force One contributed to this report.


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