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Steele, Van Hollen upbeat on dead heat 20th

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele issued a bullish statement this morning about his party's prospects for eventually capturing the 20th congressional district seat in New York.

Yesterday's election resulted in a virtual tie, with Democrat Scott Murphy leading Republican Jim Tedisco by 65 votes out of more than 154,000 cast. However, there are more than 5,000 absentee ballots yet to be tallied.

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"We are confident that the Republican advantage in these absentee and military ballots can put Jim Tedisco over the top, and the Republican Party will do everything in its power to make sure all lawful votes are counted," Steele said.

A Democratic counterpart from Maryland on the national scene, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, was equally upbeat about his candidate's chances for victory.

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"As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead," said the Montgomery County Democrat, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"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," Van Hollen said.

The absentee count is unlikely to begin until next week, and a recount seems almost certain. That means it could be mid-to-late April, at the earliest, before everything is resolved.

The national Republican congressional committee's executive director, Guy Harrison, in a fundraising email sent out today, said Republicans "cannot afford to allow the Democrats to steal this election....Democrats have almost succeeded in stealing the election in Minnesota and seating Al Franken. We cannot allow them to manipulate electoral results to seat another tax-troubled liberal." In Minnesota, of course, last November's election continues to drag out, with echoes of the 2000 Florida fight between George W. Bush and Al Gore. One of the top Republican lawyers from that all-out 2000 legal offensive--which some Democrats believe is the main reason Bush eventually won--has been directing the Minnesota courtroom campaign, now in its sixth long month.

Senate Democrats, who lack the votes to block a Republican fillibuster, have been reluctant to press the issue by attempting to seat Democrat Al Franken, who continues to lead in the Minnesota count. Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg admitted this week that the latest court ruling, which favored Franken, makes a re-election victory by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman

highly unlikely. As a result, an appeal to the state Supreme Court will be the next step, prolonging the uncertainty and keeping a likely Democratic Senate seat vacant.

In the House, where Democrats have a solid majority and Republicans don't have the minority power that their Senate counterparts enjoy, those sorts of delaying tactics would have more limited impact.

However, it's by no means clear that Murphy, the Democrat, will remain in front once the absentees are counted.

Steele, who made campaign visits to the area and provided hundreds of thousands in national party funds to benefit Tedisco, has put his own reputation on the line in the New York contest.

Here's his complete statement, as released by the RNC:

"With over 5,000 absentee and military ballots still left to count, this race is far from over. We are confident that the Republican advantage in these absentee and military ballots can put Jim Tedisco over the top, and the Republican Party will do everything in its power to make sure all lawful votes are counted."

"We are proud of Jim Tedisco and his campaign. Together, and in partnership with the Tedisco campaign, the New York Republican Party, the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee went toe-to-toe with the Obama Democratic machine that looked invincible in the Northeast just a few months ago and showed that our party can and will be competitive in areas of the country where our party hasn't won recently."

"President Obama, Senator Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Chuck Schumer all won this district, and a Democrat won the last two congressional races. The fact we are in a dead heat race in NY-20 means we are making progress as a Party standing firm for fiscal responsibility."

Here is Van Hollen's statement:

"From 21 points down to securing a majority of the vote tonight, congratulations to Scott Murphy who ran an extraordinary campaign focused on his record as a successful businessman who helped to create jobs and his strong support for President Obama's economic recovery act. As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead.

"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."

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