Sunday, November 1, 2009

Analysis: October Surprise in the 23rd Congressional District Race

On Saturday, when Dede Scozzafava’s campaign bus turned into a pumpkin, it came as a shock but not a surprise to North Country political observers. The unpredictable five-month, three-party campaign to fill the vacated House seat of Army Secretary John McHugh was elevated in its early stages to a war of surrogates for political forces both at the state and national levels, according to a close observer of New York GOP politics.

The source—speaking on background—said Scozzafava’s attempts to court organized labor (specifically her support for the Employees’ Free Choice Act) was responsible more than any other issue for attracting the political action committee Club for Growth to the campaign of Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman. The money and advertisements that followed “put Dede in a position where she never had a chance to define herself.”

Former Democratic Rural Conference Chairman Stuart Brody, who lost a bid to become his party’s nominee in this election, agrees that outside attention and campaign contributions had a distorting effect on the race: “Money often obscures the message.”

While the National Republican Congressional Committee (which took charge of the Scozzafava campaign in September) was framing the contest as a referendum on Democratic policies and leadership in Washington, and the conservative media were building the Hoffman campaign into a referendum on both Democrats and centrist Republicans, New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long was using the insurgent Hoffman campaign to bend the State GOP ideologically to the right. “Mike Long feels he has something to prove,” according to the Republican Party observer.

And if Thursday’s defection to Hoffman’s camp of former Governor George Pataki notched a victory for the Conservative Party leader, Stuart Brody believes that “what Mike Long thinks means nothing. . . . Ultimately, the North Country is moderate. Folks think for themselves.”

Asked how he sees Scozzafava’s withdrawal effecting Tuesday’s result, Brody departs from the conventional wisdom that Hoffman will benefit. In step with his faith in the independent mindset of the North Country electorate, he feels that a portion of Scozzafava supporters, particularly those driven by organized labor interests, will find their way to Democrat Bill Owens.

Our Republican Party observer points out that it may be too late for the move to produce a large-scale change, citing the layout of the ballots on which Bill Owens holds line A, followed by Scozzafava on lines B and C, followed by Doug Hoffman on line D.

As for Wednesday, the lack of a Republican candidate does not guarantee any less intense an effort to impound and count and recount the ballots. With so much at stake from every angle, a close outcome at the polls will assuredly give way to a recount phase as long as (and exceeding the cost of) the campaign itself. Ask any of your next door neighbors of NY-20.

And the day after a victor finally emerges? The seat will be up for grabs again in less than a year; a mid-term election is already well under way in most districts. Former candidate Stuart Brody anticipates that a Democratic winner will be immediately challenged by Republicans. In the event of a Hoffman victory, Brody expects that a number of Democrats will step forward to challenge the Conservative—a number which may include himself.

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Mark Wilson's editorial cartoons - under the pen name MARQUIL - appear in newspapers and online across New York State. He also provides editorial illustrations and occasional commentary pieces for The Sunday Gazette of Schenectady and regularly chimes in here at the Almanack, particularly at election time and during the annual Adirondack Bracket. Mark lives in Saranac Lake.




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