MALTA—The Congressional race between Scott Murphy and Jim Tedisco will be cast as a larger referendum on Democratic control in Washington no matter who wins. Each side knows this.
Each side also knows that the greater the national effort put forth on behalf of the candidate, the greater the PR downside if that candidate loses: you can't say you didn't care about the election when your heavy hitters crowded the lineup.
On the final Sunday of campaigning, Murphy appeared with two U.S. senators, including the popular former incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand. Tedisco, once thought to be the shoo-in in this Republican-leaning district, soldiered on without outsiders. Proudly.
Tedisco's day took him north to Saratoga, Warren and Essex counties. He entered the Malta Diner on the corner of Routes 9 and 67—where Murphy campaigned last week—just after 10 a.m. A camera crew from ABC had already made the rounds talking to diners. He smiled while walking through a misting rain without his suit jacket. He smiled again when, talking to a family of 10, he was told a young boy seated at the head was a "young Republican who wishes he could vote for you."
After 20 minutes, Tedisco emerged and spoke briefly to reporters.
Murphy was scheduled to appear a dozen miles south a few hours later with Senator Chuck Schumer.
I asked Tedisco who was coming to his aid in the eleventh hour of the campaign.
"I couldn't be more excited or more energized than to get the Post-Star endorsement today —his own hometown paper, in Warren County, in Glens Falls," Tedisco said. "The Glens Falls Chronicle, another hometown paper for my opponent, endorsed me. Today, The Saratogian, my hometown paper in Saratoga County."
(The Times Union, which lies over the district lines but circulates extensively in the more populous parts of the district, endorsed Murphy Sunday.)
"The only important endorsements in this race are the constituents and the citizens of the 20th Congressional District. I don't need any senator or congressman or anybody else to come in and speak for me," he continued. "I think my record speaks for itself; I think the constituents are speaking for me. I got all the votes in here."
I asked Tedisco if a recent poll—which showed Murphy had taken a slim lead— might have made people more skittish about jumping behind Tedisco's candidacy.
"We think we're right there, and in fact we think it's going to be hurtful to the opponent to have to bring people in from outside to try to tell people in the 20th Congressional District how to vote," Tedisco said. "This is a very independent district. They're going to pick their own public servant, their own congressman, and they want somebody who's going to go to Washington and stand up on their own two feet and speak for himself. They don't want people coming in from outside to tell them who they should vote for. I don't have anybody coming in to tell them who to vote for; I'm putting my record on the line, and I think that's going to be a pretty good one come Tuesday because the response has been unbelievable."
Registered Democrats around the districts have seen their mailboxes flooded in recent days. AFSCME and SEIU 1199 as well as the Democratic State Committee are circulating fliers. Many feature pictures of Obama next to Murphy. Vice President Joe Biden has cut a radio ad. And now, Murphy appears alongside Schumer and Gillibrand—whose favorability rating is higher than Obama's in the district—once again.
"She went from table to table with Scott, working the crowd and asking people to vote for him. He is, in her opinion, the best person to succeed her and carry on the work that she was doing in the House of Representatives," said Tom Wade, the Rensselaer County Democratic chairman.
Gillibrand, Wade said, visited the same diner on the Sunday preceding each of her two elections.
While national Republicans have certainly committed money to Tedisco's campaign, the heavy hitters just aren't here. Part of that, Republicans said, reflects the lack of clearly popular national figures for Tedisco to embrace. But in larger measure, it shows the tensions between his idea of his own candidacy and the national Republican network.
They were advising his campaign initially, and urged him to attack Murphy hard and constantly. Once polls showed this wasn't working, Tedisco declared he was going positive and would be taking control for himself. His campaign picked up as he seized on the issue of AIG's bonuses, but he continued to stay negatively focused. He made comments about Rush Limbaugh being "meaningless," then sort of walked back from them, then stood by them. His standing continued to erode. And here we are.
"I don't know who turned their back on who first," said one well-placed Republican source within the district.
So Tedisco is focusing on the local. He made appearances Sunday with Freda Solomon, widow of the late representative Gerald Solomon, and State Senator Betty Little. At past events, he has said these local endorsements carry more weight than outside endorsements. And today, he emphasized that his campaign remains strong in the final stretch.
"To win, is the strategy in the last couple days," he said. "I think what we've just got to do is touch the base of the people who we've ID'd who are supporting us. Our base is very much energized and they want somebody who's going to go out to be a watchdog and keep billions of dollars from going out the door in Washington with no oversight, no transparency, no accountability."