Steele, Van Hollen bracing for New York verdict

In normal circumstances, the outcome of a special House election would have no bearing at all on the status of a national party chairman. But these aren't normal times for Michael Steele.

The Republican national chairman has attracted outsized attention over the past few months, often as a result of his own missteps. Now, he's likely to feel the fallout from today's election in New York's 20th congressional district, pro or con.

Republicans have a significant registration advantage over Democrats in the upstate district, which takes in rural and suburban areas near Albany, the state capital. Steele has campaigned there and directed hundreds of thousands of national party bucks on behalf of the Republican candidate, Jim Tedisco, a veteran state lawmaker.

Republicans continue to suffer nationally in the eyes of most voters, and Tedisco will be fighting that trend in a district that Barack Obama carried last fall and that went for a Democrat, Kirsten Gillibrand, in the last two House elections.

Stu Rothenberg, an independent election analyst, recently commented that "it's hard to see how" Steele deserves "any blame" if his candidate loses. But, added Rothenberg, "I'm sure someone will fault" him.We'll be keeping a close eye out for the blame-throwers, if the Republican falls short, and let you know who they are.

Meantime, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who heads his party's congressional campaign committee, also has a dog in this fight. Scott Murphy, a political neophyte with roots in the business world, has pulled even in the most recent polling.

A Sienna College survey, released late last week, gave the Democrat a four-point lead, within the survey's margin of error. Polls close at 9 p.m.

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