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Obama Policies Dominate N.Y. Special Election

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Obama Policies Dominate N.Y. Special Election


Obama Policies Dominate N.Y. Special Election

Obama Policies Dominate N.Y. Special Election

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The presidential vote is long over, but watching TV in upstate New York, you could get the feeling the upcoming special election there is a referendum on President Obama and his economic plans.

In reality, the 20th Congressional District is far from both Washington and Wall Street. It winds its way through small towns and rural farmland, through the Hudson River Valley, stretching up to the Adirondacks. It's a Republican-leaning district that voted for Obama.

In a week, voters in the district will pick a representative to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand, who took over Hillary Clinton's Senate seat after she was chosen as secretary of state. And in places like the Daily Planet diner, outside of Poughkeepsie, party loyalties appear to be up for grabs.

Nick Marshall, a Republican, voted for John McCain, but now he says he's "impressed with Obama."

His girlfriend has also had a change of heart.

Zarin Kahn was a big Obama supporter until she lost her job at a real estate office. Now, she's lost confidence in her party.

"The Democrat Party is not moving fast enough," she says. "I thought I'd see more done right now."

Anger With Washington

Into this post-partisan opportunity wanders a man who wants to be their new congressman.

Around the diner, Jim Tedisco doesn't introduce himself as a Republican or remind people that he's been a state politician for 27 years. He treads carefully, often saying he agrees with Obama about this and that.

After his handshaking, Tedisco steps outside and declares that the recent news headlines are making people fed up with what's going on in Washington.

Tedisco says he "met a lot of people who are very concerned about what they see happening from the federal government right now and all these bailout programs, especially the news about AIG."

It should be a natural argument for the conservative district, but Tedisco's campaign has been struggling. He was leading the race when he first announced. National Republicans poured in money and staff, but Democrat Scott Murphy pulled neck and neck.

Stimulus Plan's Impact

Murphy has been touring the district bragging about all the money that the Democratic-led stimulus plan is about to bring to upstate New York.

On Highway 9, in the town of Moreau,there are motels, restaurants and propane dealerships, but David Johnson is more concerned about what they don't have.

"We need sewer down here," he says.

Normally, this would be a local issue, but these days Johnson and others are hoping it can get paid for with federal money. That's why they've come to see Murphy.

"It's not the most exciting thing to talk about in the world but it's very, very important to our small businesses," Murphy says.

Murphy has never held elected office. He made his money in venture capital, but he spends most of his time talking about something he had nothing to do with, but did support: the federal stimulus package.

"This is exactly the kind of project that President Obama was talking about when he put forth that stimulus package," he says. "The stimulus package had money for shovel-ready projects to put people to work, to rebuild our infrastructure all across America and here in the 20th District."

With the election only a week away, voters will have no time to see if the stimulus plan really does bring all the promised money and jobs to upstate New York, or if it will generate even bigger deficits and too much pork, as Republican Tedsico argues.

But since it's the only major election in the country this spring, the national parties will pore over the results, trying to see what they say about the country's direction.