As the NY-20 special election remains undecided and will be determined by absentee ballots, the GOP has fallen short yet again in another special election in a district that should be favorable to it. Even if Tedisco squeaks out a win, the NRCC has to spin the result to make this look like anything other than a very weak showing, and so far the initial Republican claims reek of desperation. From Politico:

NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) was reduced to noting that the tight race itself was an accomplishment.

“For the first time in a long time, a Republican candidate went toe to toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters,” said Sessions. “This was hardly a common phenomenon in 2008, particularly in the Northeast.”

This is like a general who has abandoned entire provinces taking satisfaction that one stronghold has not been captured–yet. “Yes, gentlemen, we have been completely routed throughout the region, but we put up a lot of resistance at this single outpost, which is more than you could say for our other numerous defeats.” As it was a special election, the “hard-fought battle over independent voters” was actually much more like an effort to mobilize core supporters and partisans. Given the low turnout (approximately half of what it was in November), the GOP’s advantage in registration and their almost 2-to-1 spending edge ought to have put Tedisco over the top. Perhaps they will narrowly win, but not with anything like the kind of definitive protest vote against the administration that the NRCC needed to produce. The Republicans managed to take someone who was well-regarded locally and tarnish him with close association with national Republican leaders, which in turn succeeds in tarnishing the national party image even more as incompetent and out-of-touch.

Honestly, I don’t understand the electoral strategy over the last couple of cycles. Instead of localizing all of the House races and focusing on the virtues of their own candidates, national Republicans have repeatedly, unsuccessfully tried to link everyone from Jim Webb to Heath Shuler to Travis Childers with liberal wine-and-cheesers from San Francisco and, of course, with Nancy Pelosi. This was never a credible line of attack, and in pretty much every case it backfired. I sometimes wonder whether these folks ever leave Washington and its vicinity, outside of which most people don’t know much about Pelosi if they know anything at all. Nonetheless, time and again they try to paint Blue Dog recruits as Pelosi’s lapdogs, as if this has any significance for people in the rest of the country.

What is absolutely amazing about the outcome last night is that Murphy declared his opposition to the death penalty, even in cases of terrorist attacks, and he may have won anyway. It is possible that his victory, like Cazayoux’s in Louisiana, will be short-lived and will be reversed in 2010 because of this and similar issues. Murphy’s stance on this is fairly left-leaning for someone who wants to join the Blue Dog caucus, but instead of becoming a huge liability it barely registered. It barely registered despite an NRCC ad highlighting this position. Four years ago, to say nothing of seven years ago, he could not have survived politically had he taken the same position. One of the interesting things about this race, then, is the degree to which economic issues have completely overwhelmed the old politics of national security and terrorism on which the GOP relied since ’02, and they have done so even in one of the more culturally conservative districts in that part of the country.