Deconstructing NY23: what happened; what's next

It was a narrow victory for Owens when Conservative Doug Hoffman conceded victory last night in New York’s 23rd congressional district. Pundits and spin doctors are lining up to tell the voters what Owens’ victory means on both a local and a national level. personally, I’m not listening. If it’s anything like the pre-election spin, it’s going to be almost uniformly wrong.

the fact is, ‘Republican” candidate Scozzafava was the spoiler, as labeled by conservative pundits from as lowly as yours truly to AmSpec to Limbaugh. If not in a traditional sense. Certainly, if everyone who voted for Dede had voted for Doug instead, he may have pulled it out. It wouldn’t have happened that way though. Dede’s monkey wrench, aside from her being selected as the GOP candidate, was her late endorsement of Owens.

To believe her opinion wouldn’t carry any weight in this race is to not understand the folks in the North Country. Her list of accomplishments might well be overblown, but she’s one of “ours” — which is to say, she’s somebody’s neighbor. Right or wrong, that does mean something up here.

And yes, “up here” is indeed part of the problem. Doug Hoffman had a huge handicap, being from outside the district. As he told a group of pro-life voters in a phone conference (of which I was part), he was part of the district, until his area was gerrymandered out in 2002. That explanation may well have helped his cause had he made it more public.

He also did himself no favors in not better educating himself on local issues. It was great to see him hobnobbing with Glenn Beck and Fred Thompson. And as a fan both, I was gratified to see it. But voters in the area were put off that it seemed he spent more time in the national spotlight than taking part in local debates — especially since, as noted above, his answers on the local issues were somewhat lacking in substance.

Once again, really this election is about the nation more than it is about the North Country — but the voters are here, and if you don’t win them, you don’t win. These mistakes on the part of the Hoffman campaign can be mostly chalked up to inexperience: Hoffman has never been a candidate while the Conservative Party is a stop-gap that rarely has to field its own candidates. For all that, though, he did a damned fine job.

Finally, a finger has to be pointed at the local and national parties here. The local party for not taking a golden opportunity to field a Conservative candidate (I am absolutely convinced, and I think the numbers back me up, that had Hoffman or Lynch been the nominee, for several reasons, it would have been a GOP landslide), and the national for going on the attack against Hoffman. The national Republican establishment can be forgiven, to an extent, for choosing to back Scozzafava. She was, after all, running on the Republican ticket. But when it became apparent that the local base had a real problem with her candidacy, the smart thing to do, if they chose to continue supporting her at all, would have been to attack Owens alone. Running attack ads on Hoffman created a “House divided” scenario that severely blunted their credibility once they finally did rally behind the Conservative.

So is the Hoffman loss a blow to Conservatives? Not even a little. Elections around the country went overwhelmingly to Republicans, even in blue or dark purple regions. Hoffman, in spite of the odds, ran a very close race in NY23. The Conservative base is being energized right now, and if anything NY23 ought to serve notice to establishment Republicans that Conservatives aren’t going to sit back and watch Big Government types take over the party.

And, it serves as a teachable moment: know your area, campaign in your area. Focus on the people that matter: the voters.

(cross-posted at The Minority Report)

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