Learn the lessons, Republicans
The results of the off-year elections could only be described in the most charitable sense as a bloodbath. Republicans had the trifecta in Virginia, claiming the position of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, simultaneously winning the governorship of New Jersey, a state so blue that Obama carried it by 15 points during the 2008 election.
And in the 23rd congressional district of New York, Doug Hoffman lost to Democrat Bill Owens by roughly 5 percentage points which coincidentally is just about the same percentage of votes Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava recieved. But there is more to this race than initially meets the eye.
Hoffman’s story was remarkable. Rejected by the Republican establishment when seeking the nomination, Hoffman refused to relent. Running under the banner of the Conservative Party, Hoffman had a meteoric rise in two months, drawing star endorsements, a flood of grassroots donations and single-handedly causing the implosion of the Scozzafava campaign.
Hoffman’s message was clear: The Republican Party had made a mistake by nominating an ACORN-endorsed tax-raising candidate with more in common with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi than House Minority Leader John Boehner. In the weeks that followed, Hoffman continued his attack; Scozzafava was not a conservative, and thus should not be supported as such.
Scozzafava’s decline in the polls was swift and merciless. Her support flooded to Hoffman, leaving her trailing both candidates by double digits. At the last minute, she suspended her campaign, although her name still appeared on the ballot.
But the damage had already been done. The Republican Party had given Dede Scozzafava almost $1 million for her campaign, and zero to Doug Hoffman. Hoffman’s attention had been focused almost solely on Scozzafava, while the Democrat Bill Owens remained largely above the fray, an unnoticed and almost unimportant player in the very real fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.
However, it was what happened during Scozzafava’s suspension that came as a real shock. After days of deliberation, Scozzafava emerged from her quarters and endorsed Owens. Conservatives were baffled.
Hoffman had won his case. But it was too late. The campaign was almost over and the party had expended its time, energy and money exposing a charlatan within. The real opponent in the race had undergone practically no scrutiny, had not been the target of a focused and coherent campaign and hadn’t been defined in the minds of the voters.
What happened next was predictable. Scozzafava played the spoiler and did her ideological compatriots proud. She handed Bill Owens the victory. In a race that was Hoffman’s to win, the diagnosis of how he lost is easy to decipher due to two main factors: money and focus
Instead of supporting a candidate who would lock up the conservative vote, draw independents and provide a clear and stark contrast to the opposing Democrat, the Republican Party establishment gave Democrat-like candidate Scozzafava nearly a million dollars. Putting that money in Hoffman’s hands would have resulted in at least a couple additional percentage points due to name recognition and messaging.
Instead of uniting behind the clearly qualified candidate, the Republican Party establishment set up a scenario where Hoffman had to spend time illustrating Scozzafava’s phoniness instead of displaying the clear contrast between him and Owens. This was the biggest mistake they made. Hoffman was forced to waste money, time and ads on a candidate that never had a chance of winning instead of clearly delineating the differences between him and the liberal. This factor alone was worth three or four percentage points.
The lesson derived from this seemingly insignificant race is clear. The Republican Party has to return to its roots if it wishes to have any chance at victory again. A solid conservative will win again and again when supported and endorsed by the party. Voters want to see options; they want to see differences among the candidates, not left and far-left. So give them what they want; a conservative and a liberal to choose from. Haven’t we learned the lesson from the 2008 election? When faced with a committed liberal and a wishy-washy “moderate,” the people chose somebody who at least knew what he believed in. Selecting a qualified committed conservative will guarantee the conservative vote, draw independents, and present a clear contrast for voters to choose from. The Republican Party had better learn from this experiment, because if they ignore the lesson of NY-23 they face perennial extinction and irrelevancy.
John Greenberg is a UMass student. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.