Democrat Wins In New York 23rd

With all the noise from the media about the handful of elections on Tuesday I do not want to say much to suggest more significance to the elections than they actually have–which is damn close to zero with regards to forecasting the future prospects of either party. Exit polls demonstrated that the races were in no way a referendum on Obama. That said, a comment must be made on the race in New York’s 23rd Congressional district. Like the other elections, it has near zero predictive value. It’s significance is not in predicting the future but in demonstrating where we are at today. This seat, which had been Republican for the past century, was won by Democrat Bill Owens.

For the benefit of anyone who  might not have been following the race, a special election was held because of Barack Obama appointing the former Congressman, John M. McHugh, to be Secretary of the Army.  Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava faced strong opposition from the right wing for positions such as supporting abortion rights, gay rights, and the stimulus package. Supporting both individual liberty and preserving our economy while keeping the country out of a depression was simply an agenda which few conservatives could go along with.

Scozzafava became a target of leading spokesmen of the national Republican Party such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Many Republican leaders, including Sarah Palin, backed Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman. Hoffman even referred to Glenn Beck as his mentor.

The election spurred debate in the Republican Party as a  handful of Republicans questioned the sanity of opposing more liberal Republicans. Newt Gingrich backed Scozzafava while she was in the race, recognizing that having moderate candidates in more liberal areas is the only way to rebuild a majority. Over the weekend Scozzafava dropped out and endorsed Owens. (Meanwhile those who watched the fantasy Fox coverage were initially told that Scozzafava was backing Hoffman.)

In the end conservatives got the satisfaction of refusing to support a RINO but the consequence was losing a previously safe Republican district. This provides an example of why, despite a dead cat bounce in a couple of gubernatorial elections this year, the Republican Party is rapidly becoming a fringe regional party. Rather than understanding how their extremism is dooming the party, Hoffman quickly claimed the election was stolen. He even blamed Acorn, which is certain to lead to many right wingers believing his claims.

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  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The district was doomed for the GOP from the moment that the Conservative Party ran its own candidate instead of endorsing Scozzafazza.
    For those who may not know much about New York state politics or the Conservative Party of New York, here is an interesting tidbit of information: though no Conservative Party candidate has ever won a statewide or federal legislative election in New York unless they were also the GOP nominee, no GOP candidate for state or federal office has ever won unless they were also the Conservative Party nominee. This has guaranteed that, even in a moderate state, the GOP delegation to Congress and Republican governors have always been artificially conservative considering the demographics of the state.
    What’s really fascinating is how even many Republicans in the blogosphere who claim to be closer to Scozzafazza in their views jumped on the Hoffman bandwagon .
    Apparently, you see, Scozzafazza committed the unforgivable sin of offending the right wing opinion media. In this case, her husband filed police report for harassment against a writer for the Weekly Standard. This was then presented by Hoffman and his advocates as ‘muzzling the press’ despite the fact that the Standard is not a news magazine and makes no pretense of being so of which I am aware.

  2. 2
    Fritz says:

    Sounds like the local GOP leadership utterly misjudged their local voters.  They definitely need to be replaced.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    The local GOP leadership made a better call than the national leadership. This is a moderate district which had been represented by a moderate Republican, making it one of the rare seats the GOP could hold onto. Their best shot at winning was with sticking with another moderate Republican. They might have succeeded if  it remained a two way race and outside Republicans hadn’t tried to run with a candidate who was far to the right of voters in the district.

  4. 4
    Fritz says:

    If the local GOP leadership picks a candidate who their voters will not give money to or vote for, then they aren’t being useful.
    Of course, they could change the rules, as was done in WA state, to make sure ideological voters have no other option than skipping the race entirely.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Local GOP voters did give money to the Republican candidate. One of the talking points among Republicans today is how much money they wasted. What went wrong was the vast amounts of money spent by outside Republicans such as the Club of Growth.

    Local Republicans would have also voted for the Republican candidate in a normal two-way race. A moderate Republican is the type of candidate who local voters do vote for. They ultimately did not vote for her since she dropped out, not being able to compete with all the outside support for the Conservative Party candidate.

    The Republicans lost not because of any mistake by the local party–which understood the views of the local voters. They lost because the national party would rather lose with a conservative than win with a moderate.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    In retrospect, the local Republicans had two choices:

    1) Pick a candidate whose views were in line with the district and replace one moderate Republican with another, or

    2) Pick a candidate whose veiws were in line with the national Republican Party from the far right.

    Past history showed that picking a moderate Republican was the way to win in the district. Not knowing that the far right would throw their support for different candidate further reduced any reason why they should have done any different. Even if they knew this would happen, should they really choose a far right wing candidate to prevent a challenge when it is unlikely a far right wing candidate could win in this district? As long as the far right is more concerned with running candidates that agree with them than with running candidates acceptable to the local voters, the Republicans will have difficulty winning Congressional seats in the Northeast regardless of who local Republicans choose.

  7. 7
    Fritz says:

    So basically the idea is to give conservatives no choice other than vote for someone who does not represent their views.
    And then people whine at those who don’t bother to vote any more.
    There were a bunch of national Republican fixtures (Newt Gingrich, for example), who decried the local Republicans who were campaigning for Hoffman.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    If the Republicans want to win in the Northeast they are going to have to nominate moderate candidates. That’s what it takes to have a shot at being a majority party. That’s no different than how the Democrats have been running moderates to pick up seats in the red states.

  9. 9
    Fritz says:

    Looks like conservative Republicans are less obedient to the dictates of their wise elites than progressive Democrats are.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    It was the elites among the Republicans (with some exceptions like Newt Gingrich) who were behind the idea of knocking out moderates and only allowing those in the far right to remain.

  11. 11
    Fritz says:

    I wonder if the DailyKos endorsement of Scozzafava might have been significant.
    Seriously, though, this does show the GOP county chairs who anointed her were out of touch with their constituents.  Or at least they thought they could slip her in without a bruising primary battle (which would happen in a normal voting cycle).

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:

    They were not out of touch. This is a not a conservative district, even going for Obama in 2008. It was Hoffman who was more out of touch with the district than Scozzafava. The district is a remnant from the days of moderate and liberal Republicans. The way to keep it was to go with a moderate candidate–as long as the Republican vote didn’t get divided.

  13. 13
    Fritz says:

    Pesky NY election laws — giving conservatives a choice.   NY is one of the few states (maybe the only one) that allow a candidate to be the candidate of more than one party.
    Frequently one candidate is the nominee of both the Republican and Conservative Parties and another is the candidate of both the Democratic and Liberal Parties.  And then there are all the other — Working Families, Libertarian, various Socialist, etc.
    When the Republican candidate is not also the candidate of the Conservative Party, there is something odd going on.
    But, yeah, most people are trained to vote even if they don’t like the choices and so I agree that if conservative Republicans had not been allowed an option, Scozzafava would have won.

  14. 14
    Ron Chusid says:


    You totally miss the point. It is not a question of whether they be allowed an option and this has nothing to do with New York election laws. Most if not all states have minor parties on the ballot to provide more options.

    What was unique here is the extent to which the national Republican establishment backed the minor party candidate over the official Republican candidate, preferring to lose with an extremist who reflected their views as opposed to winning with a moderate Republican who reflected the views of voters in the district.

  15. 15
    Fritz says:

    Ron, you keep talking about the Republican establishment backing Hoffman.  I know Palin endorsed him.  Gingrich endorsed Scozzafava.  Steele stayed neutral.  Did any of the House or Senate GOP leadership endorse Hoffman?  Or maybe Romney?
    Where NY state is unique is allowing a candidate to represent more than one political party.

  16. 16
    Fritz says:

    Ron — I think I see where we differ.  You think this isolation is being foisted on Republicans by the national Republican leadership, cruelly deceiving their flock into self-destructive actions.  I think conservative Republicans are doing exactly what they want to do.  Yeah, sure, they would like to vote solidly conservative and also win, but if they have to pick one or the other, they *want* to pick voting solidly conservative (even if the candidate is kind of a goof like Hoffman) and losing.
    I understand this desire — I would much rather vote for a goofy libertarian than any candidate who wants to keep government gigantic.  But I don’t pretend that some mythical national libertarian leadership is making me do it.

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:


    “I think I see where we differ.  You think this isolation is being foisted on Republicans by the national Republican leadership…”

    No, that is quite different from what I think or am saying. It is not those in official positions of leadership in the party. They are not going to openly oppose a Republican candidate–but many did stay neutral as opposed to backing the Republican candidate. It is the people who influence the direction of the party including potential 2012 candidates like Pawlenty and Palin, the Club for Growth, and their unofficial spokesman Rush Limbaugh who were pushing Hoffman.

    This is not a case of Palin taking one side and Gingrich taking the other, leaving things neutral. There was widespread support for Hoffman on the right, coming from outside of the district. Gingrich made news, and attracted considerable attacks from conservatives, for not backing Hoffman. Romney has been trying to keep a low profile in right wing conflicts and stayed out–also resulting in attacks from the right.

    This is not a case of people in the district wanting to pick a far right candidate. As I said above, this is a moderate district which went for Obama.

  18. 18
    Fritz says:

    The *district* went for Obama.  However, that doesn’t mean that Republicans are moderate there.  I have seen no evidence that Republicans in the district wanted to pick a non-conservative candidate.  As far as I can tell, Scozzafava was chosen only because the rules of the special election allowed the local party chairs to bypass the primary process.

    I figured when you talked about “the Republican establishment” you would be referencing people with high-level positions in the Republican Party or high-level Republican elected officials.   

    There was support for Hoffman on the right because, well, Hoffman is a conservative.  It would damage Limbaugh’s brand for him to support non-conservatives.

  19. 19
    Ron Chusid says:

    That’s how the Republicans are in states like New York which have a long tradition of backing moderate and liberal Republicans. If they weren’t moderate Republicans, people would not have simultaneously voted for a Republican for Congress and for Obama for President.  Right wingers complain that Scozzafava wouldn’t have won in the primaries but that is not necessarily the case.  They are expressing their desires, not what would necessarily have happened.

    Of course there was support for Hoffman on the right because he was a conservative. Politically it was a foolish move for outsiders to try to shove a right winger down the throats of moderates in the district. Conservatives are better off with having a moderate Republican who will vote Republican on many party-line votes than to have a Democrat who will vote with the Democrats.

  20. 20
    Fritz says:

    Here’s a very different take on the race:
    I think he is absolutely correct that Hoffman has already won the Republican Party nomination in that district next year.

  21. 21
    Ron Chusid says:

    If so they are likely making it even easier for the Democrats to hold onto this GOP district.

    The post you link to does not have a very realistic take on the situation. Besides the problem of running a far right candidate losing in a moderate district, the other issue here was locals versus outsiders. Hoffman and his supporters were outsiders who had no knowledge of local issues. It is bad enough that Hoffman was far to the right of the local Republicans. It is even worse being an outsider who didn’t understand the district.

    The Republican might retake the district if they run a local Republican who is in tune with the district. If they try running Hoffman again they will have a much more difficult time.

    On the other hand, considering the GOP’s track record for self-destruction in recent years, you might be right that Hoffman has won the Republican Party nomination in that district for next year.

  22. 22
    Chance says:

    Here’s where many of you have this wrong, you continue to present Scozzafava as a “moderate” Republican.  She was not a moderate Republican.  This was not a case of a fiscal conservative against a social conservative.  DeDe Scozzafava had the same views and was endorsed by the same people as the Democrat in the race.  In fact, she was left of him on a couple issues.  As conservatives, we would like a choice between a liberal and someone who has at least a few conservative view points.  In the case of Scozzafava and Owens, the choice was a liberal with and R or a liberal with a D.

  23. 23
    Ron Chusid says:

    We are talking about New York. She wouldn’t be a suitable Republican candidate in the red states, but she is the only type of Republican likely to win in the Northeast–were there are very few Republicans left in Congress.

  24. 24
    Chance says:

    That is what you and some members of the Republican Party are claiming.  However, without the backing of the Republican Party, Hoffman was able to make a lot of progress in a short period of time and lost the election byt about 4%.  Could he have won it with more backing or if DeDe doesn’t take part of the vote and show up on the ballot twice?  It would seem a little known conservative was able to garner a pretty decent percentage of the vote.

  25. 25
    Ron Chusid says:

    “However, without the backing of the Republican Party…”

    He hardly did it on  his own. He had the Club of Growth and others on the right financing him. He had Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, and other pushing for him. He had Limbaugh and Beck giving him tons of publicity.

    And the end result was to give the Democrats one more seat in Congress while further fracturing the Republican Party. Hardly a good move.

  26. 26
    Chance says:

    A loss is a loss, you are correct there.  In this case though, a win would have been a bigger loss.  Scozzafava was just as liberal as Owens.  If she had won, the Republican party would be encouraged to continue backing RINO’s without even considering a candidate like Hoffman.  Maybe Republicans will stop being the other liberal choice and start backing conservatives again.

  27. 27
    Fritz says:

    So, Ron…  If Hoffman wins the GOP nomination and the election next year, will you consider the possibility that his tactics (and those of his supporters) might be sound?

  28. 28
    Ron Chusid says:


    You think the problem is that the GOP has been backing too many RINO’s??? The problem is the opposite. The extremists in control of the GOP have been driving everyone else, turning them into a declining minority party.

    Even if your goal is to pass conservative legislation, you need to allow moderate candidates in states like New York. Such candidates won’t entirely vote the party line, but they will vote for Republican control of Congress, which would be meaningful if they get closer, and they will still vote party line on many issues. They will certainly vote the party line far more than a Democrat, even if the Democrat and Republican are equally liberal.

    Typically the Republicans have handled this by allowing their more liberal members to get away with breaking from the party on some issues but have enforced party unity on them at other times to get the votes when they need them.

  29. 29
    Ron Chusid says:


    That sounds pretty desperate to cherry pick a specific hypothetical situation to try to claim you are right. We need to deal with the facts we have, not hypothetical future situations. Besides, this is not about whether Hoffman’s tactics were right for him personally but whether the GOP’s overall strategy is correct.

    Whether Hoffman wins next year is a totally different issue. That depends upon upon what happens in the particular district. If the Democratic winner does a poor job, or if Hoffman gets involved in the district and convinces people he understands the local issues, his chances would be much better running again. On the other hand, if the district permanently remains in Democratic hands, or flips back and forth as opposed to being strongly Republican, this would show the error in their tactics.

    Next year alone is not the time to judge strategy questions. The fundamentals set up the Republicans to pick up about 25 seats next year. The bigger question is what happens long term.

    We have already seen the folly of this attitude from the GOP. As they have purged their moderates they have lost virtually all seats in the northeast and have rapidly gone form a majority party to a regional minority party.

    If this year’s election turns this around and over the next few election cycles the Republicans  pick up more seats while purging moderates and moving even further to the right, then it could be argued that the right wing was right in their strategy. So far it does not look like it.

  30. 30
    Chance says:

    I am not against backing moderates who are truly “moderate” Republicans ie fiscally conservative but maybe liberal on some of the social issues.  DeDe Scozzafava was not a  moderate, she was a liberal with an R next to her name.  If you look at nearly every major issue, her beliefs fell in line with the Democrats.  I don’t see how it benefits the Republican party to get someone like her elected for the sake of having another Republican in Congress if she is going to vote with the Democrats on nearly every issue anyway. 

  31. 31
    Eclectic Radical says:

    From a purely partisan ideological point of view, I actually see Chance’s point. I’m certainly not terribly happy that the Democratic Party continues to back Ben Nelson for Senate. Like a lot of conservatives, I’m a lot more committed to my views and principles than to the political party I happen to be registered with. I’m a Democrat because there isn’t a truly viable alternative further to the left, not out of any sense of commitment to the Democratic Party. I’ve considered the Greens, Peace and Freedom (a borderline socialist party probably more in line with my views than anyone else), and Natural Law (which shares my belief in natural rights rather than enumerated rights and tends to have the same skeptical attitude toward strict construction of the Bill of Rights that I do) over the years and always stuck with the Democrats more out of pragmatism than anything else. Coming from California, originally, I have voted in elections where a conservative Democrat opposed a genuinely liberal Republican and voted for the Republican. That happens less now, of course.
    On a deeper note, however, I have to reject Chance’s basic premise. The claim that a Republican candidate is ‘liberal’ because they happen to share views with the Democratic candidate would only hold up if the Democrats were a ‘liberal’ party. Which they are mostly not. The Democratic Party tends to share a lot of ‘conservative’  views with the Republicans on business, the budget, and defense spending these days.
    The occasional Dennis Kucinich, Paul Wellstone, or Al Franken aside, the Democrats are the moderate Republicans these days. The left has splintered into multiple third party movements out of frustration.

  32. 32
    Chance says:

    I would agree with you that the Democrat and Republican Party have both become more interested in pleasing various special interest groups than in sticking to the beliefs that are supposed to be the core of the Party.  They are more worried about the number of Senators or Representatives with a D or R next to their name than having individuals who actually represent what the party is supposed to be about.  That is exactly what my problem with Scozzafava was in the first place.  She has an R next to her name yet she backs Cap and Trade, and government expansion on the fiscal side and abortion on the social side, just to name a few examples.  In what regard is DeDe a conservative?  She may call herself a Republican but she doesn’t represent any of the conservative views the Republican Party claims to have.

  33. 33
    Ron Chusid says:


    Republicans will still have a better chance of passing things (or blocking what they want to block) by maximizing number of  people in their caucus, even if some are more liberal. Liberal Republicans still wind up voting with the Republicans more than Democrats with similar views, and the same with conservative Democrats being more likely to vote Democratic.

    Part of this is because there might be more similarities in views  to the party than is apparent from the rants from people like Limbaugh. Part of this is by how the parties operate. The Republican leadership might tell liberal Republicans that it is ok to vote their conscience (or based upon what their district wants) on a certain number of bills, but in return for avoiding retaliation for this they must vote with the party on certain other votes. They rotate around who is free to vary and who must vote party line on different votes to maximize the number.

    If you could get more conservative Republicans in office to replace moderate and liberal Republicans then this would be to the benefit of conservatives to maximize number of votes. The reality is that you cannot succeed in maintaining a national party with strict ideological restrictions. If only conservatives are welcome (or if Democrats only allow strong liberals) the party will be unable to win in certain areas and the number in the party’s caucus will fall, making the entire party have less of an ability to accomplish anything.

    DeDe might not be a conservative, but she would wind up voting with the Republicans more than a Democrat from the district would.

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