Joe Scarborough: How History Repeats Itself

There is something about New York’s 23rd Congressional District that reporters and the GOP establishment are ignoring. According to the PPP poll and the Sienna poll, Doug Hoffman is expanding the base of voters willing to vote for a conservative, not shrinking the base as the press alleges.In talking about this race this morning with Joe Scarborough on his radio show, he talked about the parallels to his race in 1994. Getting on Lexis-Nexis and doing some digging was an eye opening experience.It is also a powerful reminder for House Republicans wanting to take back the House that they are going to need to ignore the NRCC and instead go right where right can win.In 1994, Democrat Earl Hutto announced he would be retiring from Florida’s 1st Congressional District. A conservative Democrat, Hutto was old and saw what was coming.Several people, according to Roll Call on May 9, 1994, had jumped into the race “including attorney Joe Scarborough.” Roll Call continued, “But with Hutto out of the picture, first-tier candidates are now taking a look at the race. State Rep. Lois Benson has a strong base in Pensacola and is likely to run.”Benson, a Republican who turned Democrat then turned Republican again was recruited by Newt Gingrich and the NRCC as the strongest contender for the open seat in a year the media had proclaimed “the Year of the Woman.” On September 5, 1994, Roll Call noted there may be a runoff in Florida’s 1st Congressional District. The newspaper proclaimed the “Republicans’ strongest candidate is state Rep. Lois Benson”The Orlando Sentinel, on September 4, 1994, wrote “A crowded field of Republicans is vying for the nomination in Thursday’s primary: frontrunner state Rep. Lois Benson of Pensacola, a former Democrat; Basil Bethea, a Fort Walton businessman; W.A. “Buck” Lee, a Buick dealer and Escambia County commissioner; high school teacher Jim Paul; and attorney Joe Scarborough.”Behind the scenes, establishment Republicans funded Benson’s race.Why was Scarborough an after thought and the establishment lining up behind Benson? The Miami Herald gave away the game on October, 4, 1994. “District 1 Republican runoff candidate Rep. Lois Benson is pro choice and Joe Scarborough opposes abortion and had petitioned court to represent Michael Griffin, who killed abortion doctor David Gunn” The GOP Establishment found Scarborough to be too far to the right on social and . . . get this . . . fiscal issues.Joe Scarborough tells me and the record of newspapers and television transcripts from the time confirms that Scarborough rarely talked about abortion, but editorialists across the country did. Scarborough was all about taxes, regulation, and small business.Of course, on October 6, 1994, Roll Call had to report, “In the state’s 1st House district, being vacated by retiring Rep. Earl Hutto (D), Republican attorney Joe Scarborough defeated state Rep. Lois Benson in the GOP primary runoff, 54 to 46 percent. Democrats hope their candidate, former auto dealer Vince Whibbs Jr., will be able to portray Scarborough as a far-right candidate out of step with the district.“The press then did what they are doing this year. Scarborough and the GOP were — and I had forgotten this — portrayed as “The Party of No.”From the New York Times on October 23, 1994:

When they catch their breath from hounding President Clinton, Republicans like to boast about what they will not do, or what they will dismantle. The bare issue papers put out by the campaign of Representative Michael Huffington, a California Republican running for the Senate, did not, until recently, tackle staples like health care, foreign policy or education.At an issues forum last week in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Joe Scarborough, a Republican House candidate, offered one answer for every question about policy. Welfare reform? “I personally don’t believe the Federal Government should be involved in welfare.” Health care? “That’s an issue for the states.” Crime? “The Federal Government shouldn’t be involved.”It is not a matter of candidates’ not caring about issues, so much as their sense that the public does not want to hear about them. Many Republicans linked to the Christian right were drawn to politics because of their opposition to abortion and homosexual rights. But such candidates do not dare raise those issues out of fear of alienating voters.Touchy, perhaps, about the criticism that their party does not stand for anything, more than 300 Republican House candidates last month signed a “Contract with America,” an agenda of issues they would pursue if elected. It includes such old standards as the line-item veto and a balanced budget.

Note that the Contract With America was not unveiled and signed until five weeks before the 1994 election.Local press ignored most of it. Scarborough was written off as too far right on fiscal and social issues. If only Benson had won, some Republicans said, the GOP would be picking up Florida’s 1st Congressional District.In fact, Scaborough beat the Democrat with over 60% of the vote. The voters in the 1st liked his small government, pro-life rhetoric. The GOP establishment never did.The more things change . . .