As polls show Scott Murphy gaining ground in NY-20’s special election and as a local talk show host hints that he has seen Republicans internal polls with the Democrat in the lead, the GOP is understandably going in panic mode. While The RNC is transferring $100,000 to the New York Republican State Committee, GOP nominee Jim Tedisco is looking to shake-up his campaign.
Tedisco has taken a page from Norm Coleman’s playbook. In mid-October, after months in which he ran one of the most brutal campaigns of any incumbent, the former Minnesota Senator claimed to have seen the light while reflecting on himself during the Yom Kippur holiday and promised not to run another attack ad. Of course, Coleman knew perfectly well that the NRSC would take care of negative campaigning, allowing Coleman to take the high road without giving up on attacking Franken.
Now, Tedisco is claiming to have been blinded by national Republicans and allowed them to damage his campaign by focusing it exclusively on attacking Murphy. He promises that the “old Jim Tedisco” is back. “I didn’t have a handle about the information about myself going out,” he said. “I found out a Congressional campaigns are no different from Assembly campaigns, and people want to see the old Jim Tedisco out in front in the ads.”
All but asking the national party of saying out of the district - especially advertising-wise - Tedisco pledged to take control of his effort and give up on attack ads. “We’re going to run a 20th District campaign and talk about the positive issues, and leave the rest of the distortions to the other side,” he said.
As expected, the NRCC brushed off Tedisco’s criticism and signaled they would not back down from their anti-Murphy campaign:
“The NRCC has an obligation to hold Scott Murphy accountable for the past he is trying to hide as a Wall Street executive whose actions represent everything that has gone wrong with our economy. We have no plans to shirk our responsibilities.”
And they wasted no time before unveiling their harshest attack ad yet. “Scott Murphy says he has experience creating jobs. And he does… in India,” the new spot’s narrator says, as the background music changes to an Indian tune. “Scott Murphy helped create an Internet company in Mumbai:”
Another conservative group, the National Republican Trust PAC, is dropping in the district with another attack ad. The group is reportedly spending $190,000 to air the ad - a significant sum in the upstate New York market. “Scott Murphy bragged he created thousands of jobs. But just up here in New York, he created jobs in India,” the narrator says. And just like the rest of Wall Street, Murphy paid big bonuses for executives while working people struggled to get by. Now he’s promised to back a radical agenda… With a record like Murphy’s, just imagine what he could do in Washington.” Here is the ad:
Tedisco’s maneuver - take the high road and voice faint protests while letting outside groups demolish Murphy - might seem brilliant, but Coleman’s example proved the risks associated with the strategy: As viewers will see the attack ads, they will not necessarily separate the NRCC’s spots from Tedisco’s campaign and could thus come to blame the candidate for breaking his promise to run a positive campaign. At the very least, Tedisco could look weak, unable to dictate his will to his own party’s campaign committee.
The second problem with these outside ads is that there is no evidence that NY-20 voters think of Obama’s programs as a “radical agenda” that risk “crushing” the economy and “killing jobs.” Quite the contrary, the district voted for Obama on November 4th, the President still enjoys high approval ratings, and there is no evidence that the public has turned against the stimulus bill.
In fact, Tedisco’s biggest problem in this race is not the NRCC’s negativity but his own reluctance to take a position on the stimulus - a reluctance that shows that Obama’s economic agenda is not perceived as “radical” by local voters. Tedisco’s non-stance has provided Democrats with an opening to effectively hammer their opponent, and he is still unable to extricate himself from this controversy. Earlier this week, Tedisco went on a radio program - only to get grilled about his refusal to take a stance on the stimulus bill for four long minutes.
Rather than to offer unsustainable pledges to run exclusively positive ads, Tedisco might want to consider addressing what has been his biggest handicap: his rhetoric on the stimulus bill.
Meanwhile, Scott Murphy just unveiled a new ad that features nothing but Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s endorsing Murphy. “I’m asking you to elect Scott Murphy to fill my seat in the House,” she says. “Scott’s the only candidate with proven business experience. He helped create 1000 jobs and he’ll never back down in protecting Upstate New York.”
Gillibrand is popular in her old district, as testified by her 24% triumph last fall against a candidate who had waged a credible and well-funded effort. Given that Murphy’s main problem is his lack of stature - his youth, his political inexperience - Gillibrand’s effort should help by reassuring voters that Murphy is a serious candidate. On the other hand, we should not exaggerate Gillibrand’s influence: She won a narrow victory in the 2006 midterms, and she only served as the district’s representative for two years.