Left Without an Outcome in N.Y. Special Election, Spin Doctors Create One

The special election in upstate New York, the first congressional contest of the new year, was billed as the first public test of President Obama's economic policies. 

But with the race grinding to a draw this week, the political spin doctors are nevertheless scrambling to treat the election as their very own Aesop's fable. 

The moral? Democrats say the race is affirmation of Obama's economic stewardship. Republicans call it a testament to their message of fiscal responsibility. 

But as of Friday afternoon, Democrat Scott Murphy was exactly tied with Republican Jim Tedisco in New York's 20th Congressional District. The only apparent conclusion, once a winner is declared, will be that voters in upstate New York are still divided over which party to support. 

"In some ways it really means almost nothing ... for national politics," said Robert Turner, an associate government professor at Skidmore College in upstate New York. "It's really a toss-up." 

The latest totals show the candidates with 77,225 votes each -- the election was held to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, who filled Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. 

Mitchell Moss, an urban policy and politics professor at New York University, said the idea that the race had broad implications for the popularity of the president's policies was overblown by Washington in the first place. 

"It's being treated as a barometer," Moss said. "But I think it has much more to do with the particular candidates in the race." 

He said that won't stop either party from pointing to the race as proof of their strength. 

Both national political operations, in a tea-leaf reading exercise, are treating the race as they did before the election -- claiming voters are either rejecting or embracing the Democratic candidate based on their feelings over bonuses, bailouts and stimulus packages. Confidence is high on both ends. 

Tedisco's office announced Friday that he is stepping down as Republican leader in the New York Assembly to "focus on his transition to Congress," voicing confidence that the absentee vote count will swing the race in his favor. 

Without knowing the race's outcome, both parties had already claimed a victory of sorts by asserting their candidate ran against all odds while the opponent enjoyed staggering fundraising support and came into the race with a built-in advantage in the makeup of the district. 

"Scott Murphy's strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a written statement. 

In a memo released Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee boldly declared that Murphy's then-meager lead "shows that the Republican Party has no new ideas" and is "tied to the failed policies of the past." 

"This race became a referendum on President Obama and his leadership of the country and handling of the economy," the memo said. "Murphy's showing in an overwhelmingly Republican district is affirmation of the direction the president is leading the country." 

The memo pointed out that Republicans had a distinct advantage in the district -- they make up 41 percent of enrolled voters, to Democrats' 26 percent. And it said Republicans "invested significant resources" to reclaim the seat. 

On the GOP side, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions called the race a "testament to the strength of Jim's campaign and the effectiveness of the Republican message of fiscal responsibility and accountability that Americans are demanding in the wake of the AIG scandal." 

An NRCC memo further asserted that the controversy over the $165 million in bonuses to executives at bailed-out American International Group put Murphy on the defensive -- for supporting a stimulus package that had a loophole for executives at companies like AIG. 

Though Republicans do outnumber Democrats in the 20th District, the memo tried to counter that with factoids like: Obama carried the district in November, former Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer carried the district in 2006 and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer carried it in 2004. It also pointed out how Obama endorsed Murphy in a campaign ad and e-mail. 

"If last night's election was a referendum on President Obama's stimulus bill, the results are inconclusive at best," the memo concluded, saying the party is confident Tedisco will win. 

With the count of more than 10,000 absentee ballots yet to be conducted, both parties are raising money for a potential legal fight. 

Overseas and military voters have until April 13 to send in their ballots. New York Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin said the final certification will take "several weeks at least."

Moss said the outcome so far shows that Republicans are struggling, in this case to take back a district that should be theirs. But he said absentee votes typically favor GOP candidates. 

"This is not going to be an easy election for Murphy to win," Moss said. "(Republicans are) much better at winning after the vote than during the vote." 

FOXNews.com's Judson Berger contributed to this report.