ALBANY—Scott Murphy is a rich carpetbagger, out-of-touch with the needs of the average voters in the 20th Congressional District he hopes to represent because he actually grew up in Missouri. He hasn't even voted in recent elections. He was a lobbyist, for Pete's sake, taking his clients to the Cotton Bowl and lavishing them with expensive meals. As a "venture capitalist" he outsourced work overseas; that's probably why his campaign website isn't calling him "Mr. Jobs" anymore. Oh yeah: he cheats on his taxes—just like all those other Democrats, who have no problem voting to raise yours.
As for Jim Tedisco, he's a hypocritical machine hack who has allowed taxes—especially property taxes—to soar over the years. And he voted for tax increases dozens of times over his 25-year career as a politician. For all his rhetoric about fighting on behalf of the taxpayer, Tedisco sure lives high on the public hog: he accepted salary increases even after voting against them. He used taxpayer funds to send mailings, while decrying high spending by government. He also lifted $21,000 from public wallets for oil and gas for his state car over the years, even though he lives about 20 minutes from the Capitol by car. (That house, incidentally, isn't in the district he seeks to represent). And despite his long tenure as a legislator, he's not taking a stand on some pieces of critical legislation pending before Congress.
Or at least that's what you'd know about each of the candidates, if you've been paying attention to what the opposing camps are saying about them.
Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congresional Committee have been pushing these dark images of their opponents in dozens of press releases and emails since the special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in Congress kicked off earlier this month.
Tedisco, the Republican leader in the State Assembly, is familiar to district voters, while Murphy had an extremely low public profile before he was named as the Democratic candidate.
Republicans began attacking even before Murphy's nomination was official. Democrats were slower to ramp up their opposition research and press machines. According to consultant Joe Mercurio, the compressed timetable for the special election cycle—the election is expected on March 31—has led to particularly rapid and intense attacks.
"This is the end of the campaign, where you expect the negatives to be hitting, because there isn't the normal lull," he said. "The only way you can keep the Democrat from emerging is by creating his image before he can create his image. So they're painting him as what they want, because they think they can beat that."
In terms of the defenses they've offered, Tedisco claimed the travel expenses and mailings are justified because of his position as minority leader, where he wasn't just representing his district, but the interests of fellow Republicans around the state. And Murphy said that all the tax problems he is being associated with took place after he sold a company.
Irene Liu of the Times Union has done a great job parsing this stuff, and found a hole in Murphy's voting record in 2000. She also noted that there are more cars in the Assembly minority conference than the Democratic majority conference.
For what it's worth, the attacks on Tedisco are more cogent because they're not deniable: he did spend the money. It simply raises a question in voters' minds whether or not it was justified to get his message out and effectively do his job, or hypocritical.
While it's true that Tedisco's Democratic opponent isn't from the district, Murphy has never claimed otherwise. (His wife's family is very large, and he consistently references them on the stump.) Also, Tedisco walks a fine line, and seems to know it, because his principle abode—his wife owns a home in Saratoga Springs—remains outside the district boundary.
But as always, the smoke near the gun's barrel will be in the eye of the beholder. Which means that given the significant voter advantage in the district, the pressure will be much greater for the Democrats to find something that sticks to Tedisco.
"I don't see how the Republicans can lose—this is a demographic race, not an issue race," Mercurio said. "Tedisco's a known quantity. People are going to vote for the devil they know."