Democrat wins Gillibrand's House seat

April 24, 2009 7:20:02 PM PDT
Almost a month after a special election in a heavily Republican congressional district, the Democratic candidate claimed victory Friday when his GOP opponent conceded in a race that focused attention on President Barack Obama's stimulus plan. After the March 31 election in New York's 20th District, Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco were separated by a handful of votes with thousands of absentee ballots to be counted. For nearly four weeks, the lead flipped back and forth but Murphy's advantage started to grow this week and was more than 400 votes on Thursday.

Murphy is a venture capitalist multimillionaire from Missouri who has lived in New York for more than a decade. He replaces Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who succeeded Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate after Clinton was chosen to be Obama's secretary of state.

Surrounded by friends and family, Murphy discussed his victory as he stood outdoors in the business district of Glens Falls, 45 miles north of Albany, during rush hour Friday evening. He grinned as cars honked as they drove through a nearby roundabout and people yelled "We love you, Scott."

Murphy said he expects to be sworn in next week, and that he's looking forward to getting to Washington where "the work's piled up." He said he received calls of congratulations from Obama and Gillibrand, both of whom had endorsed him.

Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan was an issue on the campaign trail. Tedisco attacked Murphy for supporting the plan, while Murphy criticized Tedisco for refusing to take a stance on the stimulus for most of the campaign, a misstep that ultimately hurt the veteran assemblyman.

In a statement, Tedisco congratulated Murphy and said he'd work with him in his role as a state assemblyman.

"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," he said. "In the interest of the citizens of the 20th Congressional District and our nation, I wish Scott the very best."

Murphy said he was grateful for Tedisco's offer for help in the district. He declined to talk about the frequently negative overtones of the campaign, including political ads.

The diverse district stretches from the rural Adirondack Mountains, south of the Canadian border, to the mid-Hudson Valley, north of New York City. It has more than 196,000 registered Republicans compared with about 125,000 Democrats.

Nationwide, Republicans have taken a pounding in the past two election cycles and in New York, the pain has been acute. They lost three congressional seats in 2006 and three more last year, leaving just three Republicans in the 29-seat state delegation. They also lost the state Senate for the first time in four decades last November, and every statewide elected office is held by a Democrat.

Early on, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele declared the 20th a top priority for 2009. For Republicans, victory would have given them a claim in the heavily Democratic Northeast.

Still, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions described the race as a symbolic victory for Republicans.

"We should not ignore some of the encouraging signs that came out of this race," Sessions said in a statement. "Just a few short months ago, President Obama carried this district and Kirsten Gillibrand won by an overwhelming margin against a well-funded challenger. For the first time in a long time, a Republican congressional candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters."

Democrats didn't waste any time celebrating and congratulating Murphy.

Murphy "courageously championed the economic plans we need to lift our nation and put it on a better path, and he will continue to do so in Congress," Obama said in a statement.

Gillibrand and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., echoed the congratulations.