When searching for the key issue in the 20th Congressional District race, polling, media coverage and the candidates themselves have reached the same conclusion: the federal stimulus plan.

With that focus, analysts said, comes the possibility that Tuesday's election will be a forum on President Barack Obama, who formally endorsed Democrat Scott Murphy on Wednesday but has come under fire for the stimulus.

"It's not a good idea for the president to make this (election) a referendum about himself, because it's in a Republican district and I think it has a Republican advantage," said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and former dean at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

A Siena College poll released earlier this month showed Tedisco leading Murphy by 4 percentage points. The poll had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

Murphy's opponent, GOP Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, 58, only recently clarified his stance on the stimulus, saying he would have opposed the $787 billion spending package because of the billions of wasteful "pork" spending it contained.

He has also heavily emphasized the inclusion of a loophole for bonuses given to bailout recipients such at American International Group, or AIG. He has said supporters of the stimulus, including Murphy, are to blame.

"What we should have done was go back to the drawing board, get a stimulus package that truly creates jobs, invests in infrastructure and the economy," he said recently.

No Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the package.

Murphy, 39, a venture capitalist, has firmly supported the bill and its intentions, which in New York includes $24.6 billion to fund construction projects and billions for state and local education, among other things.

"The right choice was for the federal government to help us through this crisis with the stimulus," he has said. "This is the shock absorber that could start to turn the economy around."

He has also opposed the AIG bonuses, but has directed much of the blame at former President George W. Bush's administration and a lack of oversight included in the $700 billion financial bailout passed last year.

Economic concern among voters

Polling conducted by Siena College during the six-week campaign has shown that a majority of those polled within the district consider the economy to be a prime issue of concern. Locally, the 20th District includes eastern Otsego County and nearly all of Delaware County.

The Associated Press last week spoke to several potential voters about their stimulus views.

"I'm not sure it was the right move. Who's going to pay for it in the long run?" wondered Susan Inglee, 49, a bus driver from Queensbury.

Countered Bill Pomeroy, 81, a retiree from Clifton Park, who has watched his investments evaporate: "It was the right thing to do, but it's been done much too quickly."

Right or wrong, "I hope it helps," said Jessica Painter, 31, of Cohoes, who lost her job last fall at a title insurance company.

Candidates emphasize stimulus

Both candidates have discussed the stimulus in public appearances and media interviews, including with The Daily Star editorial board this month and at a televised debate Tuesday.

At that debate, the Albany Times Union reported, Tedisco and reporters repeatedly asked Murphy if he read the 1,100-page bill, a question Murphy would not answer with a "yes" or "no."

"The important question to ask is how we're going to get it going ... what's important is not what's on page 744 but what the bill means for New York," Murphy said.

Murphy fired back at Tedisco's repeated assertions that the stimulus had $300 billion of "pork-barrel" projects, the Times Union reported, saying he only saw $6 billion in such earmarks.

As for Obama's endorsement, both candidates were looking to turn it in their favor.

"I could not be more honored and humbled to have the president's support," Murphy said in a written statement.

Josh Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Tedisco, didn't directly address the endorsement but repeated his candidate's criticism of the stimulus bill and Murphy's support for it.

A recent Siena College poll found the Democratic president had a 65 percent approval rating in the traditionally Republican district. It was even higher "" 72 percent "" in Warren, Washington and Essex counties, which are strongly Republican.

The district has more than 196,000 registered Republicans, compared with about 125,000 registered Democrats. There are more than 118,000 voters who aren't affiliated with either party.

Libertarian out; extra time for some ballots

This week also saw two developments that could affect the outcome.

First, New York's Board of Elections removed Libertarian candidate Eric Sundwall from the ballot Wednesday because he failed to meet the threshold of 3,500 valid signatures. He submitted nearly 7,000 in his petition, but many were disqualified for technical reasons.

On Thursday, the state agreed to count absentee votes from military and overseas voters for six extra days to end a suit the U.S. Department of Justice filed this week.

In a consent decree issued Thursday, the state agreed to continue counting overseas absentee ballots until April 13.

The initial cutoff was April 7.

The original complaint argued that the race in the 20th Congressional district didn't leave enough time for military and overseas absentee ballots to be counted.

The complaint says overseas voters need at least 30 days to receive and return ballots, and the Department of Defense recommends at least 45 days.

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