STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Suddenly that Senate race in Minnesota is not the closest election in the country. There was a special election to fill a House seat in upstate New York and it's still too close to call.
Democrat Scott Murphy is leading Republican Jim Tedisco by fewer than 100 votes, and thousands of absentee ballots have not been counted. The race has come to be seen as a referendum on President Barack Obama's stimulus plan and a test of the Republican Party's ability to rebuild in the Northeast. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.
BRIAN MANN: When New York Governor David Paterson named Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, all the musical chairs created a huge opening for Republicans. Before the GOP imploded in 2006, this was bedrock conservative territory. And national party chairman Michael Steele announced the fight to retake the 20th District would be a battle royale. Jim Tedisco echoed that theme out on the campaign trail.
Mr. JIM TEDISCO (Republican Congressional Candidate): It's become a national race, so I know this is a domino for the Republican Party. If we win this, maybe Rudy Giuliani says I might want to be governor; Tedisco could do it, maybe I could do it in the state of New York. And that would be good.
MANN: Tedisco seemed to have every advantage. He's the most powerful Republican in New York State, leading the minority caucus in the assembly. With plenty of money and name recognition, he launched salvos at President Obama's stimulus plan and those controversial AIG bonuses.
Mr. TEDISCO: And the reason why it's wasteful, it has no oversight, it has no transparency, and it has no direction.
MANN: Democrat Scott Murphy is a political newcomer, a venture capitalist and a millionaire with zero name recognition, even in his rural hometown of Glenns Falls, New York. But unemployment in parts of this district already topped 10 percent, and Murphy's staked his campaign on support for the president's stimulus plan, a theme he echoed last night.
Mr. SCOTT MURPHY (Democratic Congressional Candidate): We need to take bold action, the kind of action that was taken in Washington when they passed President Obama's economic recovery plan.
(Soundbite of cheers)
MANN: Murphy steadily closed on Tedisco. The White House waded in with Vice President Joe Biden cutting a campaign commercial.
(Soundbite of commercial)
Vice President JOE BIDEN: I'm supporting Scott Murphy for Congress, and so is President Obama. Scott's a businessman…
MANN: Both parties and a constellation of special interest groups pumped millions of dollars into the race. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh talked about it on his national radio show. The National Republican Congressional Committee aired a controversial ad linking Murphy's opposition to the death penalty to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Last night, all that sound and fury culminated in a nearly perfect tie. Here's Jim Tedisco, tongue firmly in cheek, at a rally in Saratoga Springs.
Mr. TEDISCO: Now from now on, just call me Landslide Tedisco.
(Soundbite of cheers)
MANN: In a celebration across town, Scott Murphy agreed that the outcome is too close to call, but Democratic Governor David Paterson insisted that the results are already an upset.
Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): We were told that this district could not be won, but the Republican candidate was up 20 percent, so with our backs to the wall, rather than feeling despair, Democrats pull together, start working…
(Soundbite of cheers)
MANN: Naturally, the lawyers are already circling. A recount is certain. Roughly 10,000 absentee ballots won't be counted until mid-April, meaning the final outcome won't be known for weeks and possibly months. That left activists from around the country on pins and needles, unsure whether to celebrate or wring their hands. Jonathan Chambers(ph) is a Tedisco volunteer from Wooster, Massachusetts with a young Christian political group called Generation Joshua.
Mr. JONATHAN CHAMBERS (Tedisco Volunteer): It's really important. I'd love to see us win every time. It's sad when we don't win a close race, so we're trusting that God will work things out.
MANN: But in this one safe district, Republicans are fighting just to hold on, and fighting to prove that their candidates can win tough races across the Northeast in 2010.
For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saratoga Springs.