SARATOGA SPRINGS - Upstate New Yorkers can now breathe a sigh of relief.
The contentious, expensive campaign for the New York 20th Congressional District seat is over.
But the suspense isn't.
Glens Falls-based Venture Capitalist Scott Murphy and state Assemblyman James Tedisco are virtually deadlocked in the race. Early Monday, they both had exactly 77,225 votes apiece, but recounts late Monday adjusted that total to a 97-vote lead for Tedisco. On election night March 31, Murphy had a 59-vote advantage.
Who's to be the new U.S. Congressman - a question that has garnered national attention - will now hinge on a painstaking count of impounded paper and absentee ballots under the oversight of a state Supreme Court judge. This process is expected to take at least three weeks, and it may be months before results are official.
According to a state Supreme Court ruling released Monday, counting on the ballots was to begin Wednesday.
Both candidates are predicting victory, although there were 6,000 or 7,000 absentee, military and affidavit ballots that remained to be counted this week.
Election officials will be counting military and overseas ballots - which are a substantial number of the absentees - until April 14. Friday, county election boards received a federal court order extending the return deadline for the overseas ballots one week until April 13. Domestic absentee ballots must be postmarked March 30 or before.
Warren County Democratic Election Commissioner William Montfort said the election commissioners across the 20th Congressional District were awaiting further instructions from a state court.
"This thing could drag on for a while," he said.
In this hard-fought election, Tedisco closed a four-percentage-point deficit in the last few days before the vote.
In Murphy's election-night headquarters at the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs, well over 1,200 of his supporters celebrated early returns. They had come expecting an upset victory over Tedisco, an established veteran politician. Across town in the Holiday Inn, Tedisco jumped onto the stage and predicted that the outstanding absentee and military votes, which traditionally favor Republicans - would give him a winning margin.
"Nobody gave us a chance after the Democrats brought in every heavy hitter they had like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Schumer, and President Obama," he said, pumping his fist in the air to a cheering crowd. "I stood up to them on my own two feet, like I'll do in Washington for my constituents."
Tedisco privately said the reason for his eleventh-hour comeback was due to an election-day phoning blitz to get every last supporter out to the polls.
Later, Murphy pressed through the cheering crowd at the Gideon-Putnam, stepping onto the stage with Gillibrand.
Greeting the crowd as if he'd won, Murphy said he'd be working in Congress to accomplish three objectives.
"We can create good jobs in upstate New York, we can turn this economy around, and we can promise a better future for our kids," he said.
The crowd responded with chants of the Obama slogan "Yes, We Can."
The new president and his policies were prominent in Murphy's speech and campaign.
Washington D.C. political observers have said this race would provide the nation with a referendum of sorts on Obama's performance to date.
On election night, Murphy at times sounded like he was stumping for Obama.
"Today, the voters said, 'We do approve of what Barack Obama is doing,' and they said, 'Our kids will be able to stay here and pursue their dreams in this District.'"
Both candidates sounded like they were claiming victory. Murphy said he'd bring common-sense ideas to the Capitol.
"I'm so excited to be in the position to go to Washington and fight on behalf of workers for better wages, better health care and better retirement," Murphy told cheering union members.
He said he'd work jointly with Republicans to restore the economy and decrease taxes.
"We can work together to create jobs for the next generation," he said. "And we need to take bold action like Obama's Economic Recovery Plan."
Tedisco said that he'd also be working in a bipartisan spirit for the hard-working middle class, and not the wealthy nor the lobbyists.
"If this vote trend holds up, we'll be moving forward on an agenda that puts our upstate economy on the road to recovery, and not advance the special interests of any particular party," he said.
Approaching midnight, Tedisco was still greeting well-wishers. He said that Murphy put up a good fight, and that if he doesn't overtake Murphy in the absentee-ballot count, he'll be happy working in the state Assembly as he has been for 26 years.
"I love my job," he said.
Tedisco resigns from Assembly leadership post
Friday, Tedisco's job description shrank. He stepped down as the state Assembly Minority Leader, a post he's held since 2005, as he awaits the Congressional vote count. But until the the race concludes, he will remain a state Assemblyman. Monday, Assemblyman Brian Kolb of Canandaigua assumed the role as Minority Leader.
Just two months ago, Tedisco - well-known in a region that is heavily tilted toward Republicans - enjoyed a 20 percentage-point lead over Murphy.
But the lead disappeared as the two criss-crossed the district campaigning and the two ran hundreds of advertisements on area television stations, attacking each other.
This special election was held to fill the vacated Congressional seat of Kirsten Gillibrand, who was elevated to the position of U.S. Senator after Obama chose Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State.