Will next week matter?
Off year elections tend to be better for Republicans (same goes for runoffs), so there’s really nothing about the elections in Virginia, New York or New Jersey that should be considered a bellwether for the 2010 elections. New Jersey slipped over to the Democrats over the last decade, and even if The Fat Man wins, New Jersey is still going to be a longterm project for Republicans.
(The Fat Man isn’t out of it yet. Chris Daggett, an independent in the race who is polling in the low teens, will likely see his support dissipate by election day and those votes go 60-40 in favor of Christie. I would guess almost half of Daggett’s support ends up voting for one of the other two candidates. This is enough to make New Jersey a tossup. But, Corzine does have a “significant” lead in current polls.)
Virginia is more interesting (because it’s not New Jersey). The state has been reliably Republican for decades and has only recently slipped into purpleage. Expansions of the Washington D.C. ideopolis into Virginia are primarily responsible for the shift. An unpopular foreign war, the bane of governing parties since the Peloponnesian War, was the final catalyst. But, polling data shows a clear lead for McDonnell and the national Democrat players have all moved to New Jersey.
So, Virginia remains purple and a not-too-unexpected victory is had.
New York’s special election in the 23rd congressional district is the race I’m most interested in. The district voted Obama in 2008 despite having been consistently Republican for years. Obama didn’t win by a lot (52-47), but it was clearly enough to scare the local party away from putting up someone even remotely conservative. In all fairness, John McHugh was a moderate Republican with a 70% ACU rating.
The local GOP party found itself a pro-choice moderate in Dierdre Scozzafava. I won’t knock the local party for being more interested in winning the race than in running an ideologue. Unfortunately, the “Moderate Fallacy” is an all-too-common affliction for many local parties and is quite apparent in this case.
The Moderate Fallacy is the idea that all you need to do to win a congressional race (or any race) is to find a candidate whose views fit the district. This fallacy ignores the numerous other factors that determine the winner of a political race. Among those other factors are 1) the candidate’s ability to campaign 2) the opponent 3) the opponent’s campaign 4) the current local zeitgeist.
There are also other factors that sometimes crop up when you run a moderate, and in New York that factor is called The Conservative Party.
Before picking a candidate, the local party needed to weigh all of these factors (especially the danger of a spoiler). From my view, Scozzafava wasn’t a bad pick. She had shown the ability to run a campaign and win elections and she was an important Republican leader in the New York State Assembly. She picked up an endorsement from the NRA, so calling her a liberal isn’t completely fair. But, altogether, her endorsement brought the wrath of conservatives, who decided upon another champion: Doug Hoffman.
Hoffman has attracted a range of nationally prominent conservatives and this has propelled him from spoiler to contender. Mega-GOP Fail.
The Democrats also played politics. Bill Owens, their endorsee, was never a Democrat until recently. He had been a registered independent for over thirty years. An Air Force Veteran and decidedly unpartisan, Owens is the sort of candidate who has been destroying Republicans across the country.
The tactic has been working since 2006. The Democrats find a moderate or conservative (Blue Dog) who is a military veteran and isn’t an ideologue (but someone “contemplative” and “thoughtful”) and run them in tough swing districts. Since 2006, scores of these guys have won tough races across the country.
If Owens wins, it will mean the Democrats have a still-working strategic plan going into 2010. If Blue Dogs can separate themselves from the left side of party (in the eyes of the local electorate), it will go a long way in defending tight swing districts and possibly expanding into other conservative districts. In any case, it will help lessen any mid-term Democrat losses.
If the tactic fails and Owens can’t separate himself from the governing Democrat majority, it might signal better-than-expected midterm elections for the GOP.
A Hoffman victory will be a good sign for conservatives and a bad sign for the Republican Party. The GOP hasn’t capitalized on the current situation (polls show people are disillusioned with the Democrats) and the party leadership will appear even more incompetent if this race goes to Hoffman or Owens.
A Hoffman victory might even encourage more conservative spoilers and destroy any chance to make meaningful gains for the GOP in 2010.
An Owens victory might prevent more conservative spoilers but it will signal the continued strength of the Democratic electoral strategy.
A Scozzafava victory (currently she is in third place in polls) might encourage more local parties to pick lukewarm moderates and ignore other factors to the detriment to the party.
From my perspective, I don’t care who wins. It will either be a moderate, a conservative or a Republican. And the Republican would be the one I would least likely vote for were I in the district.
From a national perspective, this race won’t have a positive outcome for the Republican Party. It will either mean a failure of vision (Hoffman wins), a continuation of the Moderate Fallacy plague (Scozzafava), or another loss to the Democrat Blue Dog juggernaut (Owens).
Of the outcomes possible, the worst would be an Owens victory. So close to the election, with the polls sitting where they are, resources should be thrown at Hoffman. What a nightmare.
(Here’s another perspective on the race that is similar in conclusion (NY23 is a lose-lose-lose for the GOP), but widely different in viewpoint)