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11:11 PM: Overseas (i.e., military) ballots have until April 13 to be received. This result will certainly be punted down the road. Republicans are spending a lot of money on a lost cause in Minnesota’s Senate race because there’s tangible value in keeping an extra Democratic vote out as long as possible. But here, the winner of this election won’t make or break any House votes. Will there be as much heat and money poured into the process to determine a winner here if, after counting the absentees, it appears one candidate leads by, say, 100-200 votes? Michael Steele may personally value a win enough that he might fight for it hard.

10:47 PM: Wonder when Steele will comment. One way or another with the outcome, he probably will claim that his chairmanship = increased competitiveness in these kind of districts.

10:41 PM: So, what is the Big Broad Conclusion now, regardless of who actually takes the seat? When we set the stage tonight, we framed the race as a chance for one side or another to extrapolate from the results. But what do you extrapolate from essentially a dead heat?

From purely a standpoint of ease-on-the-ears from talking-point yakkers, the lack of certain conclusion is somewhat relieving. Eventually, one of Murphy or Tedisco will take this seat, and perhaps the absentees will push this into a more conclusive territory. But certainly nobody will be crowing about “what this says about Obama” on one side or the other because we probably won’t know for a few days, by which time it’ll be an afterthought, and what will be remembered is how razor-close it was. There won’t be any electorate “referendum.”

10:39 PM: Final precinct reports, Tedisco closes from 81 to 65 votes. Scott Murphy leads 77,344 to 77,279, or by 0.04%.

10:29 PM: While we wait, the average precinct size in Saratoga is 298 votes.

10:27 PM: Now we get to the part of the evening where subtle shifts in previously “100% reported” counties start to change. In Washington County, which was previously fully reported, added 252 Murphy votes and 220 Tedisco votes, so the overall numbers jumped. Two of the three outstanding Saratoga precincts came in, and Murphy holds an 81-vote lead with one Saratoga precinct outstanding “officially,” and possibly some slight toggling of numbers in other counties that are officially in.

10:20 PM: Murphy closes strongly. With only 3 precincts in Saratoga unreported, Scott Murphy now leads Jim Tedisco by 252 votes, or 0.16%. There are roughly 6,000 uncounted absentee ballots.

10:15 PM: Getting ridiculous. Now 30 votes separate the candidates (Tedisco still leads) after 3 more Saratoga precincts report. Those had favored Tedisco strongly, but Murphy just made up 72 votes. Nobody’s going to have anything definitive tonight.

10:11 PM: Big move for Murphy after 30 of the 38 outstanding Columbia precincts and all the remaining Delaware precincts report, almost certainly not going to be called tonight with absentees outstanding. With just under 147,000 votes counted, Tedisco leads by 102. Still 8 precincts in Columbia (Murphy edge) and 14 precincts in Saratoga (Tedisco edge) outstanding, and of course results are unofficial. The total lead is 50.03% to 49.97%.

10:07 PM: A few more Saratoga precincts report, and the extrapolation tightens a bit, to an 840-vote lead (pending absentees) for Tedisco. 534 of 610 in, or about 87.5% reporting.

10:04 PM: With 505 of 610 precincts in, there are three counties the AP says haven’t fully reported all their precincts: 38 of 58 outstanding Columbia (favors Murphy by 12 points), 24 of 49 outstanding in Delaware county (favors Tedisco by 6 points) and 43 of 188 precincts left in Saratoga (favors Tedisco by 10 points). Updated extrapolation if the county percentages hold: Tedisco would win by 1445 votes.

9:56 PM: With 77% in, Tedisco still has a 809-vote lead. Extrapolating the counties that are out, were the county-wide percentages to hold with the outstanding precincts in each county, Tedisco would win by 1599 votes.

9:43 PM: Another 103 precincts come in; Tedisco has 856-vote lead out of around 102,000 counted, with 68% reporting.

9:36 PM: Murphy briefly pulled ahead, but now Tedisco has pushed it back out to an 803-vote lead, with 312 of 610 precincts reporting.

9:32 PM: Tedisco apparently took a page from Michael Steele’s textbook and bused a bunch of minority volunteers to make phone calls today. With a third of the precincts reporting, Tedisco holds a stable 52%-48% lead, with no results from Columbia, Delaware or Washington counties.

9:23 PM: Early trends favoring Tedisco. With 15% overall in, the Republican leads by 720 votes, 52%-48%. Warren County, one of 10 counties wholly or partly in NY-20, is good for Murphy, but 37 of its 70 counties are counted (Murphy has 56%-44% lead there), whereas Saratoga has only 23 of 188 precincts counted and Tedisco holding his 59%-41% edge there.

9:19 PM: Tedisco has early 51%-49% lead, 6,093 to 5,757, with Saratoga County giving a big edge so far to Tedisco, 59%-41%.

At 9:00 eastern, the polls close in upstate New York’s 20th Congressional District, where the special election between Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco is being held today. We’ll update as results come in.

Lots of opinions on this one about its significance; undoubtedly there will be crowing from one side or the other about what the results say about Democrats and Republicans writ large nationally, and about what the country thinks of Obama and the stimulus package. Extrapolation is the name of tonight’s game. Who will get to extrapolate?

If Tedisco pulls it out, the story is different now than it was a few weeks ago. Tedisco was better known in the district and Republican registration is well ahead of Democratic registration, the story would have been: “Favorite Wins.” Now, after the only independent pollster showed dramatic movement over a series of polls toward the younger Murphy, including a final poll that had Murphy ahead by four, the story if Tedisco wins will be “referendum on Obama,” even if those same voters give the president mid-60s approval ratings.

If Murphy wins, the focus will shift to more speculation about Steele, Democrats will do more Republican grave-dancing, and the larger conclusion will be: Republicans are unwise to block Obama.

Who wins a low-turnout special (compared to regular elections) really shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But in a political world where perception is often reality and where the inside baseball implications are real, tonight is good theater.

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