Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

A by-election in an upstate New York congressional seat has set off a furious battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.  Aided by New York’s unusual political setting the race for NY-23 could hint at the continuing irrelevance of the Republican Party or suggest that appealing to the core could lead to political revival.  It started when President Obama appointed the long serving congressman of NY-23 as Secretary of the Army.  The local party nominated Dede Scozzafava to replace him on the ballot.  However, her views on taxes, abortion, and same-sex marriage infuriated the true-believers.  The Republican candidates in New York generally also run on the New York Conservative Party ballot with the votes from each party line added to the candidates total.  A different Conservative Party nominee can take away votes from the Republican.

The Conservatives responded by nominating the markedly more right wing Douglas L. Hoffman whose candidacy has eagerly been embraced by luminaries on the right wing fringe like Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey  and Sarah Palin.  This has triggered a full scale mutiny from the base.  Even though the Republicans have held this district since the 1800s, Barack Obama carried it last fall.  Ergo its a classic swing district that could go Democratic depending on the candidate.  Pointing out that the Republican party with its current 20% identification needs to expand its reach has earned even former Speaker Newt Gingrich the derisive appellation R.I.N.O. (Republican In Name Only).  Even though the Club For Growth has dutifully trotted out a poll showing Mr. Hoffman leading, its methodology has been questioned.  At this point the likely result is an unexpected victory for Democrat Bill Owens.

While the Republicans are likely to eat their own in the near future they must ponder if they wish to remain a regional party of white Southerners.  Gingrich is right.  To win a majority you have to appeal beyond your base.  At present the Republican Party is non-existent in New England, fading in the Midwest and struggling in the Southwest after alienating the Hispanic vote.  The Democratic takeover of the House was aided by choosing conservative Democrats in conservative districts (like Heath Shuler in North Carolina) or Senate seats (like Evan Bayh in Indiana).  Ideological purity becomes viable in a state or district aligned to the cause.  Which is why Joe Lieberman who would have probably been fine in Nebraska was given the boot by exasperated Connecticut Democrats (and won largely on Republican votes).  Sticking a hard right conservative in a moderate district appears to be a recipe for long term failure.  The right wing better keep its fingers crossed that Mr. Hoffman does not come in third as most polls indicate.

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