November 9th, 2009 09:45 EST
The "Palin Factor" comes to New York
It was not a great day for President Obama when two off-year gubernatorial (I love this word, don`t you?) elections went to the Republicans. The GOP took over the governorship of New Jersey, a traditionally strongly blue state and Virginia, a recently potential swing state for the Democrats. Furthermore, exit polls showed that those who voted for McCain in 2008 voted in much larger numbers that those who voted for Obama, indicating that the proverbial GOP base was much more fired up and inclined to vote than that of the Democrats.
Let the spin begin! On the Democratic side, there were quickly the comments that these were local elections, run around local issues, and that they did not reflect on the President and his performance. This line would have much easier to substantiate if the President had not so clearly and frequently tried to intervene in the race. While not an absolute repudiation of the President, it was something of a slap in the face.
Gleeful Republicans (Give them a break! They haven`t had much to be cheerful about for a while!) announced a Republican revival or "renaissance". A bit much for taking two governorships, methinks. Governors won`t be able to directly thwart the President anyway, Congressional majorities remain intact, and a slap in the face to Obama does not equal a vote of confidence in the "Big Red Machine". Nonetheless, the GOP had a chance to smile.
Still, I think the most significant result on the day was largely overlooked. Bill Owens, retired Air Force pilot and lawyer, took a spot in the House of Representatives from one of New York`s House congressional districts. New York, of course, is a strong blue state but the district was configured (read, gerrymandered) to be a very red one. For over one hundred years (according to the Huffington Post), the GOP has held this seat, making it one of the reddest in the country.
Diedre Scozzafava, the GOP nominee, was expected to cruise to victory and probably would have if the big wigs like Newt Gingrich and especially, Sarah Palin, had not gotten involved. Scozzafava`s support for gay marriage and "abortion rights" made her a moderate Republican in New York but an anathema to Palin and company. They threw their support behind Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, as well as their considerable resources.
Palin visited the state several times, campaigned on behalf of Hoffman, and stirred up the base. Hoffman`s poll numbers shot up, Scozzafava`s plummeted, and eventually she was forced and/or decided to withdraw from the race. While the fervert "base" was thrilled, the state GOP was less pleased with the outside interference of Palin and others and their turning a local race into an ideological battle. It was no longer a referendum on Obama and his policies but on Palin and her powerful yet divisive presence.
The end result was that a deeply conservative district that experienced a major registration drive of GOP voters went for the Democrat. A few days later the House of Representatives passed President Obama`s Health Care Reform Bill with one more Democrat and one less Republican in the House.
As I suggested in a previous piece, "Rep. Joe Wilson, Hero of the Right and Left?", stirring up the base may be an excellent strategy for generating headlines and fomenting protests but it also serves to reinforce the view of the GOP as a party of "crackpots". It may play well in some districts but it spells disaster for a national GOP campaign. It also puts the GOP between a rock and a hard place. Do they wish to choose the "Scozzafava path" of moderate conservatism that alienates the Palin fans in their base or do they go with the "Palin path"? The conservatives and Republicans of New York chose the Palin path and the Democrats thank them for it.