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March, 27th 2009

Death penalty for terrorists goes front-and-center in NY-20 race

– Liz Mair

On Tuesday, voters in New York's 20th congressional district will go to the polls to choose a successor to ex-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, who now occupies Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's old seat in the United States Senate.  So, we have just over 72 hours before any efforts on the part of the candidates, and the party organs and committees cease to be truly useful-- and today the NRCC is putting the issue of the death penalty for terrorists front-and-center in the race:

This doesn't strike me as your typical party committee, final-few-days type ad. It doesn't involve scary music, scary voiceovers, genuinely outrageous statements (either in text or by a narrator), or similar.  The subject matter is, of course, inflammatory and provocative-- and the ad will garner criticism for that (liberals will of course whine that it's scaremongering and trying to make voters think that Democrats are weak on going after and punishing terrorists-- all true, to a point, though I'm confident the DCCC has done plenty to scaremonger using economic policy as a point to tee-off from, and to make voters think Republicans don't have any plans to fix the economy, which is, incidentally, not true).  But it's not a really nasty, dirty campaign ad-- and campaign ads aren't designed to be nice, anyway.  In my opinion, so long as they don't include grevious mischaracterizations or blatant factual inaccuracies, I'm not one for picking them apart or overly critiquing them.  Politics, it is said, ain't beanbag.

And candidates can't, and shouldn't be allowed to, run away from what they've said, either.  The thing I like about this ad is that it just uses (Democrat) Murphy's own words against him.  It doesn't sound like a clipped quote or one taken out of context-- and that makes this fair game. 

Will this be something that succeeds in garnering the attention of voters over this weekend?  I'm not sure.  The ad isn't excessively nasty, and that probably means it will garner less attention than one more aggressively attacking Murphy for his position.  That being said, the topic is one where Murphy clearly sits to the left of the American mainstream, and his district is undoubtedly leans conservative, separate to that anyway.  This isn't Rhode Island-- though even there, when in the context of the 2006 Senate race, Lincoln Chafee indicated that he also did not favor the death penalty for terrorists, this particular viewpoint was, shall we say, one that concerned many people watching the race precisely because it wasn't clear that voters would give Chafee a pass for holding it.

A lot of Americans, including both liberals and, say, Catholics who vote Republican because of the abortion issue (specifically), are opposed to the death penalty and/or would like to see it curtailed (I'm one of the latter).  But I know very, very few Americans who can hand on heart say that the idea of terrorists responsible for large numbers of actual deaths not getting the death penalty if convicted sits well with them.  It may not be the biggest issue out there, but it is one where Murphy's position just feels, well... potentially unnatural and frankly un-human.  In any race where there's an element of picking and voting for the guy who seems more nice and more normal, this isn't the kind of thing you'd want out there-- though as I say, it remains to be seen whether releasing a not-entirely-over-the-top ad like this with just over 72 hours to go until election day will really help push Tedisco over the top.  We shall see. [intro]

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