Both major-party candidates in the race to fill Kirsten Gillibrand’s seat in the House of Representatives met with party heavyweights this week, another signal that national resources will be pumped into the special election.
Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, sat down with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in Albany on Wednesday, while Scott Murphy announced that he had met with Gillibrand and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in Washington on Tuesday.
Murphy said in a release that he spoke to New York’s newest senator and with Pelosi about the economy and job creation.
“With upstate families losing their jobs, homes and health care by the tens of thousands, Sen. Gillibrand and I spoke about the importance of putting partisanship aside and doing what’s right to help New York families recover,” he said in a statement.
Murphy said he also discussed the economic recovery package with Pelosi and met briefly with Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Tedisco met with Steele at the state GOP headquarters in Albany Wednesday afternoon. The two talked about the economy and reviving the Republican Party, Tedisco said after the meeting. Steele told him he would help raise funds for Tedisco’s campaign, Tedisco said.
“We talked about fundraising, and he was very cordial,” he said.
Tedisco spokesman Joshua Fitzpatrick said Steele’s attention to the race was an encouraging sign for the GOP in New York Sstate.
“I think that’s really indicative of the national party’s support,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said Steele came to Albany specifically to talk with 20th District candidate Tedisco. Steele also participated in a conference call while in Albany and talked to state GOP chairman Joseph Mondello and his staff about Tedisco and the 20th District race, Fitzpatrick said.
Although the national Democratic Party has more money to spend on candidates than the Republicans, there isn’t likely to be a shortage of funds for either candidate, said Bob Turner, political science professor at Skidmore College. Turner predicts that spending could hit as much as $2 million per candidate.
The race could be a bellwether for the health of the Republican Party, Turner said.
“If the Republicans can’t win this district with their minority party leader, that would be a really bleak state of the Republican Party in New York,” he said.
Turner expects voter turnout to be low for the special election, which is likely to attract more voters enrolled in a party than independents.
“People that vote [in special elections] tend to be more partisan and more informed than in a general election,” he said.
That is likely to help the GOP, since 44 percent of voters in the 20th Congressional District are enrolled as Republicans, 29 percent are enrolled Democrats and 27 percent are not enrolled in either party.
Tedisco also carries name recognition, since he has been in the state Assembly for more than 20 years and is frequently on TV as Assembly minority leader, Turner pointed out.
“He’s always on TV, whereas outside of Scott Murphy’s family, 98 percent of the district said ‘Who?’ when they heard about this,” he said. “It’s a very short amount of time to get your name out and have voters know who you are, what your issues are and why they should vote for you.”
Murphy’s best bet is to go after Tedisco as a career politician, Turner said.
“His optimal strategy is going to be to try to turn it into a referendum on how excited people in the district are about President Obama. They want to try to make it about, ‘Do you want a businessman or a politician?’ ”
Murphy, 38, of Glens Falls, is a venture capitalist. Tedisco was a teacher before he entered politics in the early 1980s.
“I think the way that it’s going to play out is the dedicated public servant versus the business entrepreneur,” Turner said.
Libertarian Eric Sundwall, 41, of Niverville, has said he is looking to make a run for the seat as well. As a candidate of a smaller party, he would have to collect 3,500 signatures within 12 days after Gov. David Paterson makes the proclamation naming the date of the special election.
Paterson has not done so yet. The election will be held between 30 and 45 days after he makes the announcement.