In it, but not of it. TPM DC

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen has put out this statement regarding tonight's deadlocked special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat -- predicting that Murphy will only expand his lead as the absentee ballots are counted, and pretty much declaring victory:

"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."


At this point, the race really comes down to which party had the better absentee ballot operation. Van Hollen is voicing a confident tone here.

Frequent readers of this site might recognize the next steps in New York's 20th Congressional District, where tonight's special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat has left Democratic candidate Scott Murphy leading Republican Jim Tedisco by 65 votes with 100% of precincts in: Courtroom proceedings, as the lawyers sort their way through absentee ballots.

The key issues here is that the Republican Party filed a legal complaint today to contest the election results, before the polls even closed -- which is not actually unheard of in New York, I've been told by state board of elections spokesman Bob Brehm.

Ballots have already been impounded tonight, for safekeeping. A hearing has been scheduled for this coming Monday, at which the candidates and the government will hammer out the procedures for counting, challenging and resolving ballots -- and you can bet the absentees will play a major part in this.

"There are statutory processes for canvassing and re-canvassing," Brehm explained, "and basically they're on hold until the court can set up a calendar that is mutually agreeable."

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The national parties are giving their reactions to today's big legal developments in Minnesota.

Jim Manley, the spokesman for Harry Reid, issued this statement:

"Sen. Reid is looking forward to the final resolution of this case by the Minnesota courts so that Al Franken can finally be seated as the new senator from Minnesota."


Pay close attention to the specific mention here of the Minnesota courts. This would appear to say that Reid believes Franken should be seated after his expected victory at the Minnesota Supreme Court -- and that this shouldn't wait for federal appeals.

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Gregg Levine at Firedoglake has two intriguing posts up about the latest developments in the NY-20 race, the ramifications of which we're still parsing through over here. Gregg writes, "The Dutchess County Clerk's Office has confirmed to FDL that Tedisco's people have filed an ex parte motion in order, the effect of which would be to investigate and overturn today's election results, should the outcome not be to Republicans' liking."

Peculiar! Here's a link the filing. One key section Gregg cites reads:

Ordering the respondent New York State Board of Elections and the Commissioners thereof to certify the name of James Tedisco as elected to the public office of Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 20th Congressional District, in Dutchess, New York, at the Special Election held therefor on the 31st Day of March, 2009, or alternatively enjoining the improper issuance of a certificate of election for the said public office.


It's unclear whether this is a major development, or a procedural maneuver that will go nowhere. We're trying to get more information and context--New York state election law turns out to be rather complicated! I've placed calls to the Murphy campaign, the DCCC, and the New York State Democratic party, and nobody seems to know what to make of this just yet. Perhaps significantly Jim Tedisco spokesman Adam Kramer writes to say that the motion was filed in the New York State Supreme Court by the state Republican party, and not by the Tedisco campaign.

We'll post updates as they come in.

Just a quick budget update, the Senate did ultimately pass the Thune amendment, which, in its original form, was aimed at preventing climate change legislation from increasing gas and energy prices. However, Barbara Boxer swooped in unexpectedly and made some changes of her own, which allowed the Thune amendment to pass harmlessly.

Meanwhile, Judd Gregg, suddenly concerned with the national debt, introduced a measure that would have prohibited the congress from voting on anything in any way related to the budget that "shows an increase in the public debt, for the period of the current fiscal year through the next 10 years, equal to or greater than the debt accumulated from 1789 to January 20, 2009." But it failed 43-54 with Democrats Jon Tester and Ben Nelson voting with the Republicans.

The more interesting proposal, though, was introduced by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), and would explicitly prevent the Senate from using reconciliation to pass climate change legislation. It hasn't been voted upon yet, but when that happens, we'll let you know.

On a conference call with reporters just now, held in the wake of the election court's ruling to review only 400 ballots for possible inclusion -- and explicitly rejecting Coleman's calls for leniency in the standards and the burden of poof -- legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg made it absolutely clear: "If these rulings stand in any final order of the court, if it will give us no choice but to appeal that order to the Minnesota Supreme Court."

Ginsberg followed up on his previous ridicule of the court's February 13 ruling that required strict standards for letting ballots in -- which he would refer to as the "Friday the 13th Ruling" -- by giving this one a new name: "The Almost April Fool's Day Ruling."

Ginsberg said the court was "subsumed with its own logic" to require strict standards, despite local officials on Election Day being much more permissive. When asked when he realized the court would not bend, Ginsberg said: "Our recognition that the court was not going to change came roughly 97 minutes ago, when we got the order."

"I gather we fundamentally disagree with them," he said later. "And that's why there are appellate courts."

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The Minnesota election court has just handed down a much-awaited ruling, laying out which previously-rejected ballots might just be counted yet -- and though it's unclear right now whose votes are whose, it doesn't look all that good for Norm Coleman.

The court reviewed 980 copies of rejected absentee ballots that both campaigns had submitted to the court arguing they should be counted under the law. We don't know the exact proportions, and Coleman alone had submitted more than that. Of those, the court has individually selected 400 of those for final review of the originals. But even all 400 of these won't be counted: "To be clear, not every absentee ballot identified in this Order will ultimately be opened and counted."

The ballots will be delivered to the Secretary of State's office by noon Monday, and those that are cleared for inclusion will be counted the next day.

So what kinds of ballots will be counted, and what processes went into determining this?

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As TPMDC has previously noted, Senate Republicans don't see the need to offer an alternative budget of their own this week -- even as they blast the priorities President Obama has outlined.

But the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is taking that leap, presenting an alternative budget that includes cuts to outdated weapons projects and defense procurement initiatives as well as a new 0.25% tax on all stock trades that would offset the staggering cost of the financial bailout.

The details of the progressives' budget are available after the jump -- and worth cheering, given the recent news that the CPC is struggling to get a literal foot in the door at the White House.

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Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) doesn't much care about greenhouse gas emissions, but that doesn't stop him from taking full advantage of his platform as the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works committee. For instance, just today he commented on climate change legislation--unveiled by Henry Waxman and Ed Markey in the House, not the Senate--with customary good cheer:

"I look forward to a full, open and honest debate over the 600-plus page Waxman-Markey climate tax bill," Senator Inhofe said. "It appears that this legislation is yet another version of the same story: a job-killing tax increase on American consumers that jeopardizes America's energy security, while doing nothing to address climate change. In short, it's all economic pain for no climate gain."


That bolded section ought to come with an asterisk at the end of it--because as he made clear...also today, he doesn't actually think climate change exists. Watch it:

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It's clear that both parties expect a close race in today's special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat, because they're both downplaying expectations -- though Dems seem just a bit more confident.

The DCCC has released a detailed memo talking about all the obstacles they face here: The big GOP advantage in voter registration, Republican state House Minority Leader Jim Tedisco's name identification against the first-time Dem candidate Scott Murphy, and the early views from pundits that they would have a tough time holding it.

On the other hand, the memo boasts of just how far Murphy has come: "After more than $2 million in negative advertising against Murphy, how did NY-20 become competitive in eight short weeks? Quite simply, he ran a better campaign." They also credit Murphy's support for the Obama agenda, as having taken him this far: "This campaign was a fight between Murphy's message of bipartisan progress on the economy and Tedisco's embrace of Republicans' 'just say no' obstructionism."

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