Republican Jim Tedisco conceded the special election to fill Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s vacated House seat to Scott Murphy yesterday, thereby giving Democrats their second Congressional victory post-November, but most importantly, a reason to cast Republicans – namely, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele – in a less than competent light.
After rebounding from a series of gaffes and provocative interviews, Steele saw NY-20 as a means to change the narrative. He elected to up the ante and raise the profile of the race by investing large sums of money in the race, transferring $280,000 to the New York Republican State Committee, which is to say nothing of the $1,000,000 transferred to the financially-strained Hill committees.
The RNC transfers aside, Steele invested his own personal capital and celebrity in the hopes of assuaging committee members’ fears they elected the wrong guy for the job. Steele bet it all – his reputation and unclear future as party chief – on Tedisco, and now all he has are the shoes on his feet and the shirt on his back.
“We’ve come to play, and we’ve come to win,” Steele said on one of two visits to the district. Of course, it’s likely that Steele honestly thought this would be a Republican victory. And on paper, it should have been. Tedisco was a well-known state legislator and long time resident of the district who was opposite a young, relatively unknown ‘carpetbagger’ running in a district that as recent as 2006, Republicans enjoyed a 15 point lead in voter registration rolls.
Had Tedisco won, NY-20 was a genuine opportunity for Republicans to claim they had exorcised their demons from 2006 and 2008, but now it’s an opportunity for Democrats to manufacture a Republican Party schism by highlighting Steele’s vulnerabilities. Steele’s tenure has been marred by calls for resignation, questionable challenges from old opponents, and a potential vote of no confidence, the last two of which were contingent upon Tedisco losing. Democrats now hope that by embarrassing Steele and drawing attention to Tedisco’s loss they can provoke greater Republican in-fighting. The Democrats obviously don’t want Steele to resign, he is, after all, the gift that keeps giving (elections), but creating the perception that Republicans do is priceless.
When the dust settles, it is expected that Steele will remain in his post, if only for the institutional challenges that make ousting a sitting chairman near-impossible. Nonetheless, he’s treading on increasingly thin ice with committee members. In the hopes of regaining their confidence, he will likely shift his focus to the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, two of three races the beleaguered chairman described as ‘winnable’ by the GOP. The third was NY-20.