The Stupid Party May Learn a Lesson in Upstate New York

Deal W. Hudson
October 22, 2009

A special election will be held on November 3 in upstate New York that may send a much-needed message to the GOP. New York Congressional District 23 was put up for grabs when nine-term Rep. John McHugh, a Republican, resigned to become Secretary of the Army. The eleven Republican chairs of the district nominated Dede Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman, and the first female minority leader pro tempore.

The social conservative wing of the GOP, well into a mounting rage over the direction of the nation under President Barack Obama, wasn’t in the mood to accept a pro-choice, pro-homosexual marriage candidate endorsed by the Working Families Party, known for its close ties to ACORN.

Michele Malkin summarized the reaction to Scozzafava in her column titled, “An ACORN-Friendly, Big-Labor Backing, Tax-and-Spend Radical in GOP Clothes.” Malkin’s comments were all iterations on her opening salvo: “The stupid party is at it again.”

The Conservative Party of New York, a group with considerable clout, decided not to endorse Scozzafava, nominating instead one of the defeated GOP candidates, the staunchly pro-life Doug Hoffman. Since then, Hoffman has become something of a rallying point for social conservatives, appearing on the radio shows of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and the red-hot Glen Beck.

Hoffman’s biography reads like a classic American rags-to-riches tale: A humble accountant who served in the U.S. Army Reserves, he unexpectedly became the corporate controller of the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, and later went on to become the managing partner of his own accounting firm. In addition, his record of community service suggests a man who has come to politics as a second thought, rather than a first.

The GOP is not so split over New York District 23 as it is splintered. Chairman of the House Republican Caucus, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), refuses to endorse Scozzafava, while Newt Gingrich and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) have come to her aid. An op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal framed the controversy this way:

The real issue is why Ms. Scozzafava is a Republican at all. She has voted for so many tax increases that the Democrats are attacking her as a tax raiser. She supported the Obama stimulus, and she favors ‘card check’ to make union organizing easier.

When Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List endorsed Hoffman rather than Scozzafava, she wrote, “It’s gravely disappointing that the Republican Party chose to nominate a candidate whose position flies in the face of the actual pro-life party platform.” She was echoing the views of dozens of social conservative leaders I spoke to yesterday at two separate meetings in Washington, D.C. They were clearly hoping that the Republican Party was going to be taught a lesson about standing up for its core principles and its platform.

Can Hoffman beat both the Republican nominee and the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens? Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard argued several days ago that the polling is in Hoffman’s favor. It shows that the more voters know Scozzafava, the less they support her. As Kristol comments, “By an amazing margin of 28-12 percent, those who’ve seen Scozzafava’s commercials say those ads make them less likely to support her.”

The Republican establishment is busy trying to prop up a candidate who doesn’t even come close to identifying with traditional GOP values, especially those of its social conservatives. This may well lead to a Democratic victory, but it’s likely that Hoffman will still come out ahead of Scozzafava, sending a clear message that Republican voters want candidates who will fight against the direction of the Obama White House, not play along with it.

Republicans have lost the last two elections in part because they did not do anything to rally the social and religious conservatives who have been decisive in every election victory since 1980. The McCain campaign was the nadir of that lack of effort, so much so that it has become the touchstone of every tactical discussion among social conservatives about how to rally in 2010 and 2012.

Indeed, those social conservatives are mounting major grassroots efforts that are self-described as “outside of the Republican Party.” Perhaps the message is already being sent.

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