Reale Simple

The world is more than what they tell you. Listen up. It's not complex. It's Reale Simple.

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Former USCHO writer, former writer at a Midwestern broadsheet, occassional CHN blogger.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Learning the Wrong Lessons From NY-23

It's obvious at this point that the national media, from Fox to MSNBC, has no idea what just happened in NY-23. Part of that stems from their late arrival into the race midway through. The other part stems from their general ignorance of local politics in this neck of the woods.

1) Third parties are a waste of time. Nope. In this case - assisted by New York's electoral fusion rules - a third party proved a useful tool for conservatives to at first nudge, then poke, and finally hit the GOP over the head with a 2-x-4 repeatedly to get their point across.

2) Third parties are the wave of the future. Wrong again. When national figures like Glenn Beck start arguing for the formation of third parties to be populated by conservatives, I want to bang my head against the wall. Perot in '92 ring any bells? Nader in 2000? Under American election laws, a third party without a corresponding and mirrored fourth party is like asking for your ideology to fail. In a system with instant runoff voting, I would be all for it. Not now. It's far better for conservatives to fight smaller battles, like NY-23, than to split the right-wing and right-of-center votes along two parties.

3) Conservatives should have picked a candidate who lives in the district. Take a look at this map:

















See the black dot I put on there? That's the approximate location of Lake Placid, where Doug Hoffman lives. Go west from it, and you're in the district. Southwest, you're in the district. Due south, you're in the district. Southeast, east, northeast, north, northwest from Lake Placid, and YOU'RE IN THE DISTRICT. Four of the five towns that border North Elba (the town that includes the village of Lake Placid) are in the district. Lake Placid was gerrymandered out of NY-23. Throw in the fact that this whole area is rural and very similar to its surrounding towns, and the "Doug Hoffman doesn't live in the district" meme that the Republicans pushed while Scozzafava was still in the race and that the Democrats pushed after her departure seems very, very silly.

Oh, and as an aside, Republican Party? Maybe you shouldn't have been playing that card considering your support in the SAME YEAR in the SAME STATE in ANOTHER special election, in fact, one in a BORDERING district, of a candidate who was not from that district. The hypocrisy is yet another reason why conservatives are not happy with you.

4) Conservatives drove a moderate out, which is why they lost. Wrong on two fronts. First, calling Dede Scozzafava a moderate is like saying Timothy Leary merely dabbled in drugs. Second, if Scozzafava had stayed in the race, there's a good chance that Doug Hoffman would have won, not to mention that if Hoffman had been the nominee to begin with, he would have stood a good chance of winning.

5) New York Republicans need moderates, not conservatives, to win elections. It sounds similar to the above argument, but it's wrong for a different reason. It's true that in many parts of New York State, Republicans should put moderates rather than full-on conservatives on the ballot. The Albany area's a good example. The North Country isn't like the national stereotype of New York as a liberal state. The party should assess the political mood of each individual district and support candidates that fit with those areas. Dede Scozzafava wasn't a good fit for NY-23. Doug Hoffman was. On the flip side, so was Bill Owens, who figures to be another Blue Dog Democrat in the House. The Democrats figured out that NY-23 didn't want a liberal. One wonders exactly how the GOP came to that conclusion.

6) NY-23 proves the Democrats aren't in big trouble next year. It doesn't prove anything. The nomination of Scozzafava and the insurgent conservative campaign turned this race into an all-out melee. By itself, it can't really speak to the relative vulnerability or strength of the Democrats heading into the midterm elections. The results in New Jersey and Virginia, on the other hand... well, let's just remember what Whitman and Allen's '93 victories portended for '94, and what Corzine and Kaine's '05 victories portended for '06...

7) Sarah Palin and the tea party movement were marginalized by the result in NY-23. Wishful thinking on the part of those professional journalists who can't help but resort to juvenile name-calling when talking about the tea parties. On the contrary, Palin, Thompson, and other fiscal conservatives flexed their muscle and made their point days before the election - the GOP is going to stand on principle whether the party heads want to or not. Remember, up until the last week of the election, Doug Hoffman wasn't expected to win - conservatives merely hoped he'd beat the liberal Republican, and hopefully squeak out an overall victory. The former was accomplished even before Election Day. That's a big win for Sarah Palin, whose endorsement of Doug Hoffman helped kickstart his campaign into overdrive.

8) Hoffman owes all of his support to national figures, so this was "astroturf." Nope. Take a look at the polls. From the very beginning, his numbers did nothing but rise and Scozzafava's numbers did nothing but fall. He wouldn't have attracted any national attention if he and the conservatives of NY-23 hadn't already established him as a legitimate candidate. The national attention merely accelerated his already rising support.

Segueing from the last point, the national media was really only paying attention to this race over the last three weeks of the campaign - thus, they never really got a feel for what was going on there. If they're not careful, it'll cause people to draw the wrong conclusions from NY-23, and the same foolish mistakes will be made in the future.

Who Lost NY-23?

There's no doubt I'm disappointed this morning. It's rough to head into the count with cautious optimism only to come out on the losing end no matter what the circumstances here.

New York's North Country will be represented by a Democrat for the first time in several generations for at least the next 14 months. When something of that kind of historical magnitude comes down, finger pointing is completely inevitable. So before people start pointing fingers in the wrong directions, allow me, a local resident who has been watching the special election since the day President Obama nominated John McHugh to be Secretary of the Army, to guide you in the right direction.

Those to blame for last night's Democrat victory, in order starting with the most culpable and going down:

1) NY-23's GOP Chairpersons. Don't start at the end. Start at the beginning. There were six other candidates for the Republican nomination besides Dede Scozzafava, including Doug Hoffman and Matt Doheny. Scozzafava happened to be the only elected official in the field. The chairs learned the wrong lesson from the 2008 election and didn't learn the obvious lesson from the NY-20 special earlier in the year. They thought NY-23 was trending Democrat due to Barack Obama's victory in the district and decided to go with a non-conservative holding the top position of power among the potential candidates.

The #1 culprit here is Clinton County chair Janet Duprey, who, like Scozzafava, happens to be an Assemblywoman. The two women are close friends, and by all accounts Duprey was the driving force behind the appointment of Scozzafava as the nominee.

2) The RNC and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). After Duprey and the local chairs made the big mistake, the national chairs expounded upon that mistake and made it worse and worse, even as local conservatives and Republicans virtually shrieked at them that they were backing a bad candidate. They poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race on her behalf, including some ads which attacked Doug Hoffman, who more and more became the choice of Republicans during the course of the election, even before Sarah Palin and Fred Thompson became involved. By the time all was said and done, the GOP spent over $1 million building up Dede Scozzafava into a player in this race despite the fact that her poll numbers peaked at the very beginning of the race, before her record became widely known.

3) Dede Scozzafava. I'm not going to sit here and attack her for making the decision to run for higher office. I'm not even going to attack her here for her liberal record - she's entitled to her views on governance. What IS indefensible, after receiving so much money from the national GOP and being unable to rescue her own campaign from the growing popularity of the conservative candidate, she decided to take her ball and go home, and THEN endorsed the Democrat - the very person the GOP spent all that money on her in order to defeat. The most cursory glance at the final results shows that this endorsement was likely the difference in the race: an endorsement borne out of spite for Doug Hoffman for stealing away the conservative base that she took for granted, and out of spite for her own party, which eventually - with considerable prodding - saw the writing on the wall and stopped supporting her.

Solutions?

1) Dump Dede. The Republican Party CAN be a big tent, but a big tent has to have strong center poles to hold it up. Those center poles represent the party's core values, and if parts of the big tent stray too far from those poles, they undermine the strength of the tent. Such is the case with Dede Scozzafava. So many of her political stances run completely counter to the core values of the GOP. It's not a problem if one or two stances are moderate or liberal. That's why you have a big tent, for people and candidates like that. But after a while, it starts to become a matter of principle. If the party is going to stand up for an outright liberal candidate simply in order to win elections, where is the principle, and what is a party without principle?

The final straw is her endorsement of Owens, which more than likely swung the election in the end. How can she be allowed to ruin the Republicans' chances of retaining a congressional seat by espousing values counter to that of the party, running a horrible campaign (including several unforced errors on her part), wasting the party's money, and then turn around and endorse the Democrat to secure the election for him and still call herself a Republican? Even if she wants to, why would the party allow it?

The counter-argument is going to be that removing Scozzafava from the GOP caucus in Albany will leave the Assembly with only 39 Republicans. My response: so? She votes with the Democrats a large chunk of the time anyway, and it's not like the Republicans are anywhere close to having any sort of power in that legislative body anyway, nor will they likely have control in the near future. Losing a liberal is no loss here.

2) 2010 primaries for Scozzafava and Duprey. Barring the above scenario, the conservative movement must continue its diligence. These two women, by and large, are directly responsible at both the beginning and the end of the election for its result. Although neither are conservatives, Duprey could at least fit into the "big tent" as a moderate, but her actions have done serious damage to the party's reputation in the North Country just as much as Scozzafava's. There should be repercussions to such action. It would be nice to see some serious fiscal conservatives challenge them for their Assembly seats next year.

3) Hoffmania rolls on. There can be little doubt that if it wasn't for the Dede Scozzafava sideshow, the Republicans would have held onto this seat if Doug Hoffman, Matt Doheny, or another fiscal conservative had been the party's nominee. If Scozzafava hadn't been in this race for six weeks, her endorsement of Owens wouldn't have had anywhere near the effect that it ended up having, Hoffman would not have been operating from the disadvantageous position of a third-party, and would have had logistical and financial support from the GOP from the get-go... which is what conservatives in NY-23 were saying all along. This seat is up for election again in 12 months. We know what we did wrong. Now it's time to get it right, and now with the PEOPLE back in control of the first step - nomination - we will get it right.

The mainstream media, the bigwigs at the NRCC afraid to face their own faults, and the party hacks will point to the conservatives as the reason this race was lost. And to the extent they're right, we should be glad they're right. The answer has to be crystal clear for them to understand - we'd rather lose with our principles than support someone who has no respect for those principles whatsoever.

The consolation prize for conservatives? It was said time and time again that Scozzafava was to the left of Owens. We ended up with a more moderate winner than if the party's choice had won. On principle, that's what you want. We made our point in this race - now let's hope the ones who failed us get the message and don't stick their heads back in the sand.