Last week, the Republican nominee in NY-20’s special election proclaimed that the “old Jim Tedisco” is back. Out with the negative ads, he promised, adding that he would “talk about the positive issues, and leave the rest of the distortions to the other side.” Yet, Tedisco’s latest commercial demonstrates that a “positive” spot can be as misleading as an attack ad.
In his new spot, Tedisco talks directly to a camera with a factory’s workroom in a background. “Bad government in Washington, and shocking greed in Wall Street, they’ve wasted our money and threatened our future,” Tedisco explains. “Like the President says, in these difficult times, we’re not Republicans or Democrats — we’re Americans. And that’s the team I’m on.”
Given that the ad makes no mention of Tedisco’s party affiliation, the ad’s final moments are clearly meant to suggest that Tedisco is on “the team” of “the President.” At the very least, Tedisco is suggesting that he views himself as a supporter of Barack Obama’s leadership, and that voters should remember that he respects the President enough to invoke him as a role-model in such a spot.
Fascinatingly, the ad was released only a few days after Tedisco finally took a position on the stimulus bill, saying he would have voted against it. “My position is: yeah, I worked as hard as I could have to get those amendments in and to get them passed. I realize now that people don’t understand that if they didn’t get passed, I would have voted no,” Tedisco said. “I’m going on the record now to say I would have voted no, because what we should have done was go back to the drawing board, get a stimulus package that truly creates jobs, invests in infrastructure and the economy.”
As I have written many times before, his reluctance to take a stance on this issue proved to be the opening Democrats were looking for. But after a long month during which he was hammered by numerous editorial boards, radio hosts and Democratic ads, the Republican nominee finally realized that he had much more to lose in remaining silent than in taking a position - however unpopular it might be with a segment of his electoral coalition (one the one hand conservative donors and the national establishment, on the other Obama-supporting working-class voters).
Let’s recap: Tedisco is airing an ad tying himself to the President immediately after announcing that he would have voted against the biggest policy proposal Obama has enunciated so far!
This remarkable sequence points to two broader dynamics:
- He is really worried about the stimulus issue: “I realize now that people don’t understand that if they didn’t get passed, I would have voted no,” said Tedisco, thus admitting that he has noticed that the decline in his poll numbers is associated with the heat he has been getting over the stimulus. Yet, it is also clear that Tedisco would have rather not have to come out against the stimulus: His obvious need to tie himself to the President in his new ad shows that he is afraid Democrats will now paint him as an opponent to Obama’s agenda and will remind voters of Tedisco’s party affiliation. After all, remember that Obama won NY-20.
- The GOP’s woes are still not over: Republicans might insist that the environment is no longer toxic for their candidates and that voters will now blame Democrats, but Tedisco’s ad certainly shows no such confidence. Quite the contrary, his rejection of the “Republican” label in a district that analysts often describe as a GOP stronghold echoes what we witnessed throughout the 2008 cycle, when Republicans across the country were doing their best to shun their partisan affiliation. That happened all the way from state races to the presidential election.
The trouble for Tedisco is that his strategy of running a non-partisan campaign might be more appropriate to a normal contest than to a special election, in which motivating base voters is an usually important concern. Because turnout will be lower, getting staunch partisans to the polls becomes that much more crucial compared to appealing to independents and moderates. This is why it would have been too much of a risk for Tedisco to take a stance for the stimulus - and why it is telling of how popular Obama is in the district that he did not announce his opposition to the bill earlier. But might Tedisco not complicate his efforts to get the base excited about this race if he puts himself on Obama’s side as he does in his new ad?
In other major news relating to NY-20’s special election, a suit has been filed by three people associated with the GOP and the Conservative Party to kick Libertarian Party candidate Eric Sundwall off the ballot. Sundwall, who is expected to draw more votes from Tedisco than from Scott Murphy, has submitted more than 7,000 signatures - twice as much as the legal requirement. The suit alleges that more than half of these signatures are invalid, and a hearing will be held on March 25th. This sets the stage for a last-minute ruling that could have an important effect on the final result if the margin is close.