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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Whose Was the Real Winner in the New York 23rd Race?

Let's run down the possibilities.

1) Democrats. Well, of course; Bill Owens, a Democrat, won the election, taking over a seat that the Republicans have controlled for over a century, giving Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama have one more vote in the House than they had before. The possibility of 2010 becoming another 1994 for the Democrats just got one representative less likely.

2) Republicans. It was a loss for them, of course, but as defeats go, it wasn't terribly significant on its own terms; Dede Scozzafava, the chosen candidate of the New York state GOP to replace John McHugh (whom Obama had appointed to be Secretary of the Army), was an unknown quantity insofar as House voting would have been concerned, and was a terrible candidate to boot, so who knows how long she would have survived, even with the advantage of incumbency? But the real challenge coming out of the race is that posed by Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party nominee.

3) Conservatives. As Josh Marshall noted a couple of days ago, Hoffman's rise as a serious candidate, stealing away major Republican support, eventually leading Scozzafava to drop out of the race, was itself a huge victory; once Hoffman became the "official" alternative to the Democratic candidate in the election, everything else--including an acual Hoffman win--would have been gravy. But what does the conservative movement do with this victory? One likely message it sends is another reminder that the Republican party needs to curry the support of movement conservatives, both social and fiscal, at every turn; that the Republican party can not count on their votes, and are willing to turn to third party candidates. Will that message have legs? Perhaps not; as Jay Cost points out, Scozzafava wasn't chosen through a regular primary process, where conservative activists could have made their votes count early on; and more importantly, New York's Conservative party has a long history, with an infrastructure available for disgruntled Republicans to capitalize upon in switching their allegiance to a preferable candidate. But still, if nothing else, Hoffman give conservatives a sense of the theoretical possibilities, at least.

4) Liberals. Owens's victory means one more vote in support of a variety of liberal causes, of course. But Hoffman's successful challenge to Scozzafava as the alternative to the perceived liberal Democratic party gives greater legitimacy to the "Tea Party" movement, making their attacks upon President Obama and his agenda more credible. On the other hand, a conservative movement which makes cleaning up the Republican party one of its primary objectives may not add a whole lot to persuading voters in the middle to support their anti-Obama platform.

5) The people of the New York 23rd Congressional District. They elected a candidate who actually lives in and knows something about their district, whose campaign wasn't overwhelmingly paid for by out-of-state donors, and whose demeanor doesn't suggest that of a nice, earnest person being pushed around by egos and agendas outside of his control. A wise move, I think. They have a representative which some actual local grounding, and not just a cause.

6) The American party process. A pretty strong victory, I think. The New York state GOP by-passed the primary process, and got slammed for it. A third party candidate rose to the mainstream. Energized voters forced the hand of party leaders. All positive signs of health, I think; the more third parties we have, the more responsive party leaders are obliged to be, the more people pay attention to political primaries, the better for American democracy.

So all in all, I'd say the real winner was the American voting public. There are ominous signs, of course, especially if you think the elimination of moderate Republicans is a matter of concern for the common good. But over all, we have solid candidate being elected after a genuinely competitive race. Not a bad result for an election day.


Nate Oman said...

Who cares what's happening in New York? I want a long RAF aria about localism, rural-suburban/urban politics in the Democratic party, and the evils of global capitalism as seen through the prism of the the Virginia governor's race. I would have thought that Creigh Deeds would be a candidate for you to conjure with philosophically. Let's talk about the Commonwealth.

Russell Arben Fox said...

The Commonwealth race just made me sad, Nate, because it shows the deep hold which nationally and ideologically-rooted conceptions of rural vs. urban--or traditional vs. progressive, or localist vs. cosmopolitan--divides can easily override the actual content of one's ideas. Deeds was a great Southern Democrat, someone deeply sympathetic to and familiar with rural mores and values, but sensitive to how at least some egalitarian policies are needed to support such. Meanwhile McDonnell was able to push forward a cool, fiscally moderate, suburban-friendly anti-Obama message, and count on Deeds's hick accent to make sure that he wouldn't pick up any votes from Northern Virginia independents/sophisticates. What could have been a serious contest over where localists should go at the present moment, turned out to be a route that played out straight from David Brooks's "the-suburbs-are-everything" Republican play-book. Depressing.

Nate Oman said...

RAF: I am skeptical that Deed's "hick accent" mattered that much, although not having a television I live in an all-print world when it comes to politics. I certainly don't think that McDonnell was relying on Deed's "hick accent." I think that McDonnell was actually gearing up for a very difficult race, and I think that Deeds should have done much better. I certainly think he was a stronger pick than either Moran or McAuliffe. I think that in part he got boxed in by the WashPo, which backed him because he endorsed taxes for transportation spending and snapped at him when he equivocated on the issue, making it clear that it would turn if he didn't stick to his new taxes pledge. I suspect that Deeds was scared to cross the Post because he needed support among No.Va. Democrats, with whom it has real pull, especially in an off-year state race. In other words, I don't think what you saw here was localism overwhelmed by an unappreciative suburban world of national ideological clashes. Rather, I think you saw Deeds skewered by the dynamics of inner-suburban politics between high-tax liberals and low-tax moderates.

Nate Oman said...

Final note: In policy terms, other than the issue of how to fund transportation there weren't that many policy differences between Deeds and McDonnell.

Unknown said...

Good analysis, but you missed a very big winner (or villain) in the NY-023 results.

7) Fusion voting. New York is one of a handful of states that still allow fusion voting. A candidate can run on more than one ticket and have all the votes count towards his or her election.

New York has several fusion parties that deliver or withhold votes from the Dems and Repubs on an ideological basis. In years past, the American Labor party gave socialist garment workers to vote for FDR with being contaminated by Tammany Hall.

Today, the Working Families Party, Conservative, Right-to-Life, and Indepence Parties are ballot qualified in New York state.

Usually, but not always the minor fusion parties cross-endorse a major party candidate. The WFP occasionally endorses Republicans. And, sometimes, a Democratic candidate get the margin of victory on the WFP line from voters who wouldn't vote for a Democrat.

I think Dede had gotten the WFP endorsement and that was something that caused her troubles with the tea-baggers.

Without fusion voting, Hoffman would not have had a viable Conservative party line to gain credibility.

BTW, back in the day when the Kansas GOP regained control of the Kansas legislature, they passed an electoral law that not only banned fusion voting, but went so far as to require that parties only have one word in their name.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Nate, you make a good case that there were some inner-suburb dynamics in the race, which played out along class lines (especially in regards to taxes to pay for transporation improvements), at least as much as there was geographic/cultural divides. I'll keep that in mind.

Stu, fascinating stuff about fusion voting in New York; I was completely unaware of that element of New York's voting process. Thanks for the info!