Wednesday, April 01, 2009

New York’s CD-20: A Toss-Up Salad

Well with an off-off year congressional special election in New York, America in a deep recession, and a new Democratic government in start up mode, the mood is just right for the spin doctors to come out a-whirling and a-twirling.

Especially if we have another toss-up election as our main course today.

In the days running up to the special election in New York’s CD-20, the Washington Post was reporting a statistical dead heat in the polling.

And now, with the polls closed in New York, that is exactly what we have on our hands.


The Democratic and Republican spin doctors are all out there pointing out how this is a vindication for Barack Obama’s program, or how this is an early indication that the country is turning against the Obama plan for economic recovery.

I have a spin as well, but before we go there, I need to lay some groundwork.

First, if CD-20 sounds oddly familiar, it should be if you read this blog regularly, as six of you do, or read about congressional scandal in general. CD-20 was in this blog last year with speculation that former the New York CD-20 congressman, Republican John Sweeney, was being tapped to sing like a canary over his dealings with my former congressman’s dealings with judged and jailed former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It was in the news in 2006 as well, because he was narrowly defeated by moderate Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, mainly because of his various and newsworthy encounters with the law.

By tradition, New York’s 20th congressional district is Republican leaning. Gillibrand, a moderate Democrat, was able to be elected by a 53% to 47% margin, ostensibly because of the incredibly bad press that the congressman got that year.

But after Senator Hillary Clinton was confirmed as the new SecState, Gillibrand was tapped to take her place by New York’s Governor Patterson, throwing an open seat out to be filled in a special election, an open seat in a Republican leaning district.

An opportunity, some say, for Republicans to start their long fingernail-scraping crawl out of the hole they have dug themselves into.

So now we have a toss-up. At the end of the day, the Democratic candidate, businessman/entrepreneur Scott Murphy had a 65 vote lead over the Republican, State Assemblyman John Tedesco.

With over 10,000 absentee votes to count, the race is anyone’s.

Not if you ask the Democrats, however. Democrats have Murphy winning by 210 votes, using statistics and models of the voter trends in the counties covered by CD 20.

Not if you ask the Republicans, however. Republicans cite a “Republican advantage among the absentee and military ballots that exceed the current Murphy lead”. This, advantage, they say, is not statistical, but based on “raw data.”

Raw data? The only raw data I know of are the ballots themselves, which have not been counted.

All of that notwithstanding, this has not prevented the Republican spin machine to show this race as the American electorate’s negative judgment on the performance of the Obama Administration (which, polls show, has a 66% voter approval these days). A district that went to a Democrat by 6% in 2006 is being retaken by a Republican in a squeaker. That, they say, is a definitive trend.


What it is, is a statistical toss-up. Nate Silver of fame not only predicted the toss-up, but his numbers show that New York CD 20 is a “Republican +2” district between the 2004 and 2008 elections.

Republican leaning.

But, Silver continues, a “Republican +2” district in a Democrat-advantage year, like 2008, predicts a toss-up election. Indeed of the 11 R +2 congressional district races in 2008, 5 went to Democrats, and 6 went to Republicans.

So the nonsense will continue to be spun until April 15th when the final vote will be certified with the counting of the absentee ballots.

What happens after that, we will see what we will see. But what do you suppose the odds are that should Tedesco lose narrowly, the Republicans will go to court?

It is, after all, their standard operating procedure in these days when they just can’t buy an election any more.

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