NY-23: A Timeline and Short Assessment

In the special election in NY's 23rd, Democrat Bill Owens has defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, garnering 49% of the vote to Hoffman's 45%. Though Republican Dede Scozzafava suspended her campaign last week to endorse Owens, she still received roughly 5% of the vote. Though he ultimately lost, Hoffman's campaign proves third party candidates are viable contenders for elected office; that duopolists can be effectively marginalized by a maximum of effort and a minimum of creativity. I've been following this contest here at Poli-Tea since the end of July, and thought I'd assemble a time-line of the race from those posts:

• June: Obama nominates Republican Rep. John McHugh for the position of Secretary of the Army.
Late July: With Republicans having already nominated Dede Scozzafava, Democrat Darrel Aubertine is expected to run on the Democratic ticket. Surprisingly, Aubertine announces he will not seek the office. The Conservative Party of NY attacks Scozzfava, vows to run their own candidate in the Race. The NRCC continues running television ads against Aubertine, though he is no longer in the race.
First week of August: The Conservative Party nominates Doug Hoffman.
Second week of August: Democrats nominate registered independent Bill Owens. McHugh's confirmation is pushed back to September. CPNYS tries to persuade the GOP to drop Scozzafava and endorse their candidate.
August 25th: Having previously stated that "if Dede Scozzafava is the best New York Republicans can do, we might as well just hand the seat over to the Democrats," Red State's Eric Erickson endorses third party candidate Doug Hoffman.
First week of September: Hoffman is profiled in the Washington Times and the Weekly Standard. At Daily Kos, Kos himself calls Scozzafava "the most palatable candidate."
Third week of September: McHugh is confirmed as Secretary of the Army. The Hill begins coverage of polling in the race, stating that Hoffman's numbers are "surprisingly high."
September 30th: NY's governor calls for the special election on November 3rd. Hoffman obtains endorsements from the Club for Growth, Fred Thompson, the American Conservative Union and the Susan B. Anthony List.
October 6th: At The Washington Times, Kara Rowland considers the possibility of a "tea party effect" in the special election.
October 8th: The National Republican Campaign Committee releases ads attacking Hoffman.
October 16th: The greater portion of the online conservative commentariat comes out in support of Hoffman.
October 18th: Tom Knapp argues that libertarians "don't seem to have an obvious horse in this race."
October 23rd: Sarah Palin endorses Hoffman. Numerous GOP officials and politicians begin to jump onto the Hoffman bandwagon.
October 28th: Limbaugh endorses Hoffman, stating "this isn't a third party race."
End of October: Scozzafava suspends campaign and endorses the Democrat Owens.

Thus, beginning only with the endorsement of the Conservative Party of NY, Hoffman eventually garnered the support of the national conservative grass-roots and most of the Republican establishment. Democrat Owens, on the other hand, won with little or no support from the liberal-progressive grassroots, and the explicit endorsement of the Democratic establishment, from the president and vice president on down. In an article on the race from October 18th, Jazz Shaw wrote at Pajamas media that Republican Scozzafava "began raising eyebrows immediately, sending conservative blogger Michelle Malkin into apoplectic fits." It is worth noting, however, that though Scozzafava did indeed begin to raise eyebrows among independently-minded conservative activists immediately, Malkin and the conservative Republican blogosphere's "fits" did not commence until roughly the middle of October, over two and a half months after Hoffman received the CP nomination and almost three months after Scozzavafa's nomination. This delay may well have cost Hoffman the election.

As I've noted before, whether Hoffman won or lost, duopolist ideologues would claim victory: in the case of a win, he would have been declared the "true" Republican, while in the case of a loss, his candidacy would be determined to prove the futility of third party and independent activism. Having endorsed Hoffman against his better judgment early on, Eric Erickson now reverts back to good old fashioned duopolist ideologizing: "there has all of a sudden been a huge movement among some activists to go the third party route. We see in NY-23 that this is not possible as third parties are not viable." As stated above, and in fact, the special election in NY's 23rd proves that third party candidates can indeed be viable contenders for public office. All that is required is for people to cease throwing their time, money and votes away in support of the Democratic-Republican two-party political status quo.


Samuel Wilson said...

At the least, Hoffman's run proves that it's possible for a movement conservative to run a viable third-party campaign. Whether anyone with a different ideology could do as well is unclear. Conservatives imagine an ideological Bipolarchy of themselves and "liberals" for which the two-party system is ideally a perfect fit. Their beef against the actually-existing Bipolarchy is with Republicans who don't concede that the GOP belongs to the movement. A greedy pragmatism impels the movement to strive for control of the Republican party. Until they renounce the GOP once and for all, or until their takeover of the party compels moderates or centrists to renounce it in favor of a new party, I see little encouragement for other independents in Republican infighting.

d.eris said...

It seems like conservative "renunciation of the GOP once and for all" is highly unlikely, since so many folks seem to equate being a Republican with who they are. However, Hoffman's candidacy shows that in particular cases they are capable of suspending faith in the party. On the other hand, many moderates and centrists have already declared their independence from the GOP. Former Republicans and independents will certainly make for some interesting contests in 2010.

"Whether anyone with a different ideology could do as well is unclear." True. But hopefully, third party and independent strategists across the political spectrum will be emboldened by his relative success.