Why District 23 Might Spell Doom for the GOP
Last Tuesday, conservatives across the nation rejoiced as Republicans Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey won their respective state’s gubernatorial elections. Despite these significant victories for the GOP, it was a Democrat Cinderella who captured the media’s attention and dominated the headlines.
In a special election, Bill Owens became the first Democrat elected to New York’s 23rd congressional district House seat in 140 years. Owens, a once significant underdog, garnered momentum after the conservative-right opted to back third party candidate Doug Hoffman over the Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava. Among those who threw their support to Hoffman were Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh–all heavy hitters from the far-right.
What prompted these political heavyweights to pick a dog in this amateur bout? The congressional election in New York’s 23rd was a microcosm of a larger war that could, if promulgated across the country, threaten the GOP’s prospects in next year’s mid-term elections.
Toto, I don’t think we’re in Boston anymore
Described as “the insurgent tea party candidate,” by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, Hoffman became the rallying point of despondent conservatives unhappy with the GOP’s recent centrist tone. This group represents a rapidly growing minority within the Republican Party that intends to bring its agenda back to traditional conservatism. The rift is growing as this group continues to appeal to more and more conservatives who love their God and hate big government.
Most pundits have argued that the gubernatorial losses spell trouble for the Democrats in the upcoming 2010 elections, suggesting the public now favors conservative candidates. While it may be true that more people are becoming frustrated within the Democratic ranks, even more are aggravated within the Republican Party.
McDonnell and Christie both won elections in states that voted for Obama in 2008. While Virginia has a long history of voting against the party in power in the White House, McDonnell and Christie both won because they forsook conservative ideological stances and adopted fiscally conservative platforms. They knew that conservative social stances against abortion, gay rights, and affirmative action are still largely unpopular with most of the electorate.
Palin, Beck and the other prominent tea partiers don’t seem to understand this concept, and threaten to drive us into a three party system. This could set up 2010 and 2012 elections that eerily resemble this year’s New York contest. Republicans may find themselves struggling to choose between the moderate majority or the trendy extremists, splitting the votes and leaving the Democrats with a sizable advantage.
Bad news gets worse for the Republicans. GOP pollster Bill McInturff has identified the three leading candidates for the 2012 presidential race: Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney, all of whom have strong conservative social agendas. The GOP has a great opportunity to take advantage of the economic crisis and advocate for conservative fiscal reforms. These ideas are popular right now, and the public could well support a conservative economic agenda. However, this is not the time to preach for social reform as the “tea party” does.
Drinking and politics: Enjoy both in moderation
Conservatives need to realize that their social reform agenda is outdated and unpopular. McDonnell and Christie understood this concept, and as a result, won the governorships of their states. The Republican Party was most powerful when it unified in its fight against the Democrats (as I indicated in my first blog post), endorsing a unified message. This is consistent with one of public relations most fundamental rules: always have a consistent message. Infighting threatens to tear the GOP apart, and as long as the Democrats can figure out a way to band together, they could be sitting pretty in 2010.