Showdown in New York

A special election to fill an open House seat is being held Tuesday, and the whole country is watching.

Published March 31, 2009 1:50PM (EDT)

Get ready, political junkies -- if you've been jonesing for a few months now, tonight's your chance to get a taste of those sweet, sweet election returns. New York's 20th congressional district is holding a special election today to fill the House seat left open by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand's appointment to the Senate.

Facing off in what's a fairly Republican district are Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco. The most recent poll of the race showed Murphy with a slight lead, after Tedisco had led for the duration of the race. But polling special elections is notoriously difficult, as it's hard to determine who really is a "likely voter" and what turnout will look like, so this one really could go either way.

This race has gotten national attention, with President Obama weighing in on Murphy's side and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele -- whose future has been said to hang on the outcome of the vote -- making a push of his own for Tedisco. A caution in advance, though: Because of the involvement of national figures, some pundits may take the results as a sign of national trends. No matter which way the election ends up going, it's almost certainly a mistake to buy into that. If it were, say, a Senate race between two equal candidates in a purple state won by Obama, then you could legitimately extrapolate the results to the national political scene. A single House district, by contrast, is not a good barometer of anything but the mood in that district.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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