GOP Split Could Give Dems NY 23 — For The First Time In History : It's All Politics A split among Republicans could give a Democrat a shot at winning in New York's 23rd congressional district — for the first time in history.
NPR logo GOP Split Could Give Dems NY 23 — For The First Time In History

GOP Split Could Give Dems NY 23 — For The First Time In History

It wasn't that long ago when Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) was plucked out of near obscurity from her upstate New York congressional seat to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Republicans, who lost the NY 20 House seat to Gillibrand in 2006 when their incumbent self-destructed, were licking their lips in anticipation of recapturing the seat in a special election.

They failed. Back in March, when Scott Murphy (D) upset Jim Tedisco (R), the GOP was still in disarray and President Obama was still flying high in approval ratings.

That brings us to NY 23. Of New York's 29 congressional seats, the GOP holds three. Or two, now that Rep. John McHugh (R) has resigned to become Secretary of the Army. McHugh, first elected in 1992, was invincible at home. And why not? He is well-liked and attentive to the needs of his district. Plus, the seat has been in Republican hands only forever. So there's no reason why the Republicans shouldn't hold on to the seat, right?

Here's the rub. The GOP has nominated state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, a moderate who has a good relationship with organized labor, and who has gotten good press from the liberal Daily Kos Web site. And as the left praises Scozzafava — perhaps with an ulterior motive — the right gets more excited about Doug Hoffman.

Hoffman is the candidate of the Conservative Party, and polls show him in the high teens. He's also won the endorsement of the Club for Growth, American Conservative Union, ex-Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) and, on Friday, conservative activist Gary Bauer.

Here's part of Bauer's statement:

The decision to do so was made after considerable contemplation, but in the end it was an easy decision to make. Simply put Doug Hoffman is THE CONSERVATIVE candidate for Congress. ...

Today the American people are reeling from politics as usual, big government takeovers, out-of-control spending, higher taxes and liberal corruption. Unfortunately, the two main political parties have chosen nearly identical candidates, virtually indistinguishable on key issues. But Washington is not lacking for liberal politicians. What is in short supply on Capitol Hill these days is commonsense conservative values.

The split on the right is getting Democrats excited; they think Bill Owens, an attorney, could win this historically GOP seat. A recent poll by Siena College shows Scozzafava with 35 percent, Owens with 28, and Hoffman with 16.

One major difference between this special election and the one in March to replace Gillibrand: numbers for Obama and Democrats in general are down. But if a moderate-liberal Republican like Scozzafava might have been what the doctor ordered back in March, that might not be the case today — especially with conservatives starting to get more aggressive and with the presence of a real conservative in the race.

But if this portends a victory for Democrat Owens, don't expect the Daily Kos to be pleased:

The "Democrat" isn't even a Democrat — he was a registered independent when selected by the district's Democratic county chairs for the special election. On social issues, he's pro-choice, but opposes gay marriage. On health care, he opposes a public option but doesn't have the balls to say so, so he talks all squishy like claiming he has no "litmus test" on the issue. He's a Lieberdem Blue Dog, and would strengthen the part of the Democratic caucus that is actually the problem, rather than the solution.

So who to root for? A Blue Dog who would strengthen the Democrats' corporatist faction, or a Republican version of a Lieberdem, who will probably be muzzled, but could — if she remained true to her record in Albany — be more of a Susan Collins-type Republican, a moderate in an ideologically rigid party willing to give the Dems fake "bipartisan" cover with crossover votes every once in a while.

If Republicans lose the seat, it'll dent that sense of momentum they believe is headed their way. If they win the seat, it will have been with a liberal Republican, suggesting that their path to electoral relevance in the northeast is to ditch the Southern-fueled ultra conservatism. Both are good for us.

If the Democrat loses the race, we lose nothing — it was previously held by a Republican. If he wins the seat, we gain another obnoxious Blue Dog, undermining our caucus from within while adding just a single vote to our already dominant House majorities. Furthermore, the typical DC wankers will take this as "proof" that you need to run Lieberdems in such districts to win them, while ignoring the fragmented conservative opposition. Not much of an advantage at all. More than likely, a net disadvantage.

Owens and Hoffman have been up on TV for awhile; Scozzafava began airing TV ads last week.

But before we anoint Owens as the winner, one thing to remember: third-party candidates always have their best numbers in September and early October. Let's watch and see if old patterns repeat themselves. If they do, and if Hoffman's numbers decrease, Scozzafava's chances of winning increase.

If nothing else, we are looking at a seat where in the past Republicans have never had to lift a finger to win it. And that's not the case here.

The election is Nov. 3.