Can Doug Hoffman be the next John McHugh for New York’s 23rd district?
I suspect that Tuesday’s vote in the special election for the 23rd Congressional district in New York will have more to do with turnout induced by political organizations than it will with principles about how voters in one Congressional district believe America should be governed. But if this vote were based on the latter principle, would Doug Hoffman be headed for a clear defeat?
I ask this question not out of partisan concern – I don’t live in New York’s 23rd, nor do I think the fate of one Congressional district is that much of a bellwether for America as a whole. But if you look at the 2008 election that returned incumbent John McHugh to his seat, you would think that the district’s voters on balance back the brand of moderate northeastern Republican thinking he exemplified. McHugh, who was re-elected with more than 65% of the vote, has gone to work for President Obama as Secretary of the Army after all. He didn’t quit his district to make a beeline to go lobbying or advocating for conservative political causes.
Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava yesterday backed out of her campaign after significant elements of the national Republican political establishment endorsed Conservative Party challenger Doug Hoffman and began tarring her with every brush they could find. And in explaining today why she came out in favor of Democratic candidate Bill Owens, Scozzafava stated that she believed he would be closer in governing philosophy to John McHugh than Hoffman:
It’s not in the cards for me to be your representative, but I strongly believe Bill is the only candidate who can build upon John McHugh’s lasting legacy in the U.S. Congress. John and I worked together on the expansion of Fort Drum and I know how important that base is to the economy of this region. I am confident that Bill will be able to provide the leadership and continuity of support to Drum Country just as John did during his tenure in Congress.
In Bill Owens, I see a sense of duty and integrity that will guide him beyond political partisanship. He will be an independent voice devoted to doing what is right for New York. Bill understands this district and its people, and when he represents us in Congress he will put our interests first.
It will be interesting to see if voters take to that message. Back when I first blogged about Sarah Palin’s endorsement, I wondered if the mild-mannered independents of the 23rd would be turned off by the partisan lightning rod that their district has become. In the latest Siena poll, Owens significantly lost ground among Republican voters, but saw a 7% surge in independent voters who said they would vote for him (less than the 9% growth in independents who said they’d support Hoffman). While that Siena poll showed Owens with a slight lead, it also showed that Hoffman’s unfavorable ratings climbed by 22% (Owens’s unfavorables grew by 14%), and that President Obama’s favorability in the district had grown while his unfavorable ratings had fallen.
I’m no longer convinced that Owens will win this race, although with Scozzafava endorsing his candidacy, he has the only thing that could have saved his candidacy. But the choice for the McHugh-embracing 23rd and its constituents seems clear – they can have a Congressman in the mold of Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Jean Schmidt of Ohio, the kind if ideologues handpicked by Karl Rove and his GOP machine of the earlier half of the decade to create a more far right political base in Congress. Or, they can have a Democrat who the Daily Kos’s Markos Moulitsas derided as, “a Lieberdem Blue Dog, [who] would strengthen the part of the Democratic caucus that is actually the problem, rather than the solution.”
I am eager to see their choice. While I’m pessimistic about Owens’s prospects, this race has already had a whole series of fascinating twists and turns, and with Scozzafava’s latest move to “betray the GOP” as a Hoffman spokesman put it, one wonders if that will be enough to give Owens what he needs to get back on the winning side of this race.