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The Take: The grass roots prevail in N.Y.

In case you missed Sunday's Take --
By Dan Balz
Significant battles sometimes take place in obscure places. Until the past month, New York's 23rd Congressional District was known mostly for its cold climate, its history of electing Republicans to the House and its relatively moderate politics.

The GOP has held the district for more than a century. As a result of a surprise announcement on Saturday, Republicans are likely to continue to hold it for the time being. But the developments that put Republicans back in a stronger position to win a special House election on Tuesday will reverberate unpredictably far beyond the district's boundaries.

By the time this fight is over, several questions will be front and center heading into the 2010 midterm elections. One is who really controls the Republican Party. Another is whether grass-roots anger is now the driving force in politics. A third is whether all this is a wise and winning strategy for Republicans or a great gamble by what has been a beleaguered party.

When President Obama nominated Republican Rep. John McHugh to be his Army secretary, he created a vacancy in McHugh's Upstate district that quickly became the scene of a civil war within the GOP.

McHugh, a moderate Republican, first won his seat in 1992 and was well suited to the views of his constituents. His district, like many in the Northeast, has been moving toward the Democrats.

The local Republican leadership tapped state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava to run in the special election. She seemed to them a good fit for the moderate district but was out of step with national Republicans, supporting both abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Nonetheless, she enjoyed the backing of the national party and, among others, former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Conservatives rebelled. To grass-roots activists and some prominent party officials, Scozzafava's brand of moderate politics was an offense to GOP principles. Quickly they began to coalesce around Doug Hoffman, a Republican running as the Conservative Party candidate.

By Dan Balz
In case you missed Sunday's Take --
"Tea party" activists took up the cause for Hoffman. Prominent conservative radio talkers backed him, as did a host of grass-roots-oriented conservative organizations.

Then there was Sarah Palin. In her first significant move since she resigned as governor of Alaska, Palin announced her support for Hoffman, prompting others to do the same. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is eyeing a 2012 presidential candidacy and knows the energy and power of the party's conservative base, also backed Hoffman.

Scozzafava held a narrow lead over Democrat Bill Owens when all this started. But Hoffman's growing support gave rise to fears among Republicans that he would so divide the GOP vote that Democrats might steal the seat. Then Scozzafava rapidly began to fade.

By Saturday morning, the race was between Owens and Hoffman. By Saturday afternoon, Hoffman was rated the favorite. In between, Scozzafava announced that she was suspending her campaign, and Republican Party leaders quickly endorsed Hoffman.

"If Hoffman pulls it off, it will be a case study in [political science] graduate seminars for years to come on how the grass roots rebelled against the party bosses and won," one conservative Republican strategist said Saturday.


"Tea party" activists took up the cause for Hoffman. Prominent conservative radio talkers backed him, as did a host of grass-roots-oriented conservative organizations.

Then there was Sarah Palin. In her first significant move since she resigned as governor of Alaska, Palin announced her support for Hoffman, prompting others to do the same. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is eyeing a 2012 presidential candidacy and knows the energy and power of the party's conservative base, also backed Hoffman.

Scozzafava held a narrow lead over Democrat Bill Owens when all this started. But Hoffman's growing support gave rise to fears among Republicans that he would so divide the GOP vote that Democrats might steal the seat. Then Scozzafava rapidly began to fade.

By Saturday morning, the race was between Owens and Hoffman. By Saturday afternoon, Hoffman was rated the favorite. In between, Scozzafava announced that she was suspending her campaign, and Republican Party leaders quickly endorsed Hoffman.

"If Hoffman pulls it off, it will be a case study in [political science] graduate seminars for years to come on how the grass roots rebelled against the party bosses and won," one conservative Republican strategist said Saturday.

This was a classic case of the grass roots overrunning the leadership of the party, and it carries implications for the battles that will play out next year and beyond. As the Hoffman campaign gathered momentum, prominent supporters of Scozzafava decried "litmus test" politics, arguing that for the GOP to become a national party again it must back candidates with disparate views on issues.

They lost this round. And the success of the activists in the 23rd District is likely to prompt more conservative challenges to candidates deemed not conservative enough.

It's been clear that forces outside Washington, and out of the control of the Republican Party leadership, are having a sizable impact on the party and on the country's politics. Party leaders like the enthusiasm they see in these groups -- the first real energy within the conservative coalition in at least four years -- and want to do everything they can to take advantage of it. But as the battle in Upstate New York reminded them, they are being pulled along.

The benefit is that Republicans now have a more energized electorate than the Democrats do. But the risk is that a Republican Party that is at record lows in terms of people identifying with it will be pulled even farther to the right in ways that will limit its appeal to the center of the electorate.

A related factor is the politics of anger, seemingly a force right now. This anger takes a variety of forms: anger at Wall Street, anger at Washington for bailing out the big boys, anger at the Obama administration for what is seen as a big-government agenda, anger at political leaders of both parties.

A veteran Republican strategist and a veteran Democratic strategist independently voiced their belief recently that anger is the most significant force in politics today and a potential threat to incumbents of both parties next year. "I have never seen it like this," the Republican strategist said. "It is a breakdown of trust."

What just happened in New York's 23rd District was an expression of anger at the Republican leadership, local and national. In the short term, Scozzafava's decision to suspend her campaign gives a boost to GOP hopes of holding the seat. In the longer term, the outcome of the Republican civil war there suggests that, for now, the grass roots hold the upper hand.

By Washington Post editors  |  November 2, 2009; 8:20 AM ET
 
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Comments

Hoffman, baby, Hoffman!

Posted by: JakeD | November 2, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

"Plain and Simply. It's a grass roots anger against the direction Obama is taking this country."

It's not grass roots at all, it's being pushed by rich conservative white Republicans.

I don't see much difference between the current "movement" the complaining that went on the last time a Democrat was in the White House. Except this time, thankfully, the Right Wing fringe hasn't blown up any Federal Buildings.

Posted by: dan10things | November 2, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Hoffman's support isn't grass roots at all, look at where all his fundraising money is coming from, mostly from PACs outside the district. Scozzafava had 3 times as much locally fundraised dollars, even if she was party picked. Grassroots = local, not a nationally pushed movement by Conservatives PACs with lots of cash.

Posted by: dan10things | November 2, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"Grass Roots" politics in NY's 23rd - another example of the kind of lying that got us into a War in Iraq based on such fabrication as "Weapons of mass-destruction", "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and "Mission Accomplished".

Exactly the same "tell-lies-with-tag- lines" strategy that would have us believe that the funding of a complete political unknown like Doug Hoffman by The Fund for Growth and shipping in Sarah Palin's expertise on NY's North Country can be called "grass roots politics."

This deception will have the same end as such other great GOP concepts as the midnight burglary of the Watergate.

Posted by: djcolegrove | November 2, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Balz brings up the fact that Scozzafava supports gay marriage and is pro-choice as to why this grass roots movemenet took shape...but failed to understand the real reasons... She is an Acorn endorsed, pro cap and trade, pro ObamaCARE, tax hiking liberal! She was handpicked and would never have won the primary.

Posted by: paswingvoter2010 | November 2, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

No news in District #23, really. New Yorkers know it is as a beautiful,rustic Adirondack backwater cocooned in a 1950's mind-set. Great place for a summer camping vacation, but populated with a politically naive, uninformed, and easily controlled population of citizens slogging along in the same rutted, under-employed, poorly educated traces of their great-grandparents. It's perfect ground for planting what Palin, Dick Armey and Glenn Beck are sowing.The G.O.P. will try to crow about a win, betting that the rest of their base remain ignorant of the circumstances of this "win".

Hopefully, it will further alarm right-wing leaders that they've lost control of the monster they created. Good news for the democrats.

Posted by: blosmurph | November 2, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

what's funny is it's the National Republicans pushing their own will on the locals....

Posted by: tru-indy | November 2, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

When you are draining a swamp it takes one step and one election at a time. People are sick of the spending, too big to fail, corruption, debt and the same old same old in government. This is a message to both parties. They ignore it at their risk.

No to the government run government option, no to cap and trade, no more too big to fail, no more bail-outs. Stop spending, stop printing worthless dollars.

2010 we can continue to drain the swamp of all Spendocrats. Vote for fiscally responsible candidates!

Posted by: Bubbette1 | November 2, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN NY-23 REFLECTS A SEIZURE OF LOCAL POLITICAL CONTROL BY A "GRASSROOTS GESTAPO" THAT OPERATES UNDER THE RADAR OF WASHINGTON-BASED JOURNOS AND POLS...

Please pay attention to the following before it's too late:


***

SECRET FED PROGRAM SILENTLY TORTURES, IMPAIRS U.S. CITIZENS WITH MICROWAVE/LASER RADIATION, SAYS MAINSTREAM JOURNALIST

* "Directed energy weapons," portable units and a nationwide installation camouflaged as cell towers, induce weakness, exhaustion, physical and neurological impairment, strokes, aneurysms, cancer -- and many victims do not realize what is making them sick.

• Thousands of Americans held hostage in their own homes to police-protected, fed-supported vigilante "community policing" stalking units, equipped with warrantless GPS devices, who vandalize and terrorize unjustly "targeted individuals" and their families.

* Regional Homeland Security- administered "fusion centers" reportedly serve as command centers for covert electromagnetic radiation attacks, pervasive surveillance, financial sabotage of those identified as "dissidents," "trouble-makers" or slandered as threats to society.

* Use of microwave weaponry to torture and impair political opponents recently confirmed by deposed Honduras President Manuel Zelaya.

* Pleas for justice, to local police and FBI, go unanswered -- as do demands for a Department of Justice Civil Rights Division investigation and congressional hearings.

"These are crimes against humanity and the Constitution, being perpetrated under the cover of national security and 'safe streets' by multiple federal and local agencies and commands -- an American genocide hiding in plain sight, enabled by the naivete of those who think 'it can't happen here.'" -- Victor Livingston, former reporter for WTXF-TV Philadelphia, Phila. Bulletin, N.Y. Daily News, St. Petersburg Times; producer/host, MSG Network Sports Business Report; columnist, NowPublic.com/scrivener.

http://nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-terrorizes-america OR (if link is corrupted / disabled): http://NowPublic.com/scrivener RE: "GESTAPO USA"

Posted by: scrivener50 | November 2, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I'd be willing to bet that there were not many surprised by "Scuzzy"fava's endorsement of her former opponent. That R after her name no more made her a Republican than standing in a garage would have made her a car. Hmmm, maybe I'm wrong, she's big enough to be a car!! Good riddance witch...shoot, I keep misspelling things this morning!!

Posted by: OregonStorm | November 2, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I'd be willing to bet that there were not many surprised by "Scuzzy"fava's endorsement of her former opponent. That R after her name no more made her a Republican than standing in a garage would have made her a car. Hmmm, maybe I'm wrong, she's big enough to be a car!! Good riddance witch...shoot, I keep misspelling things this morning!!

Posted by: OregonStorm | November 2, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Plain and Simply. It's a grass roots anger against the direction Obama is taking this country. Congress better start paying attention to the people and not their party, if they want to keep their job that is.

Posted by: CayC | November 2, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

While the extremist GOP fringe may be getting their panties wet over this NY upstate election, the truth is, even if their boy wins, it really doesn't indicate any potential new wave of GOP extreme consciousness set to sweep the nation in 2012. Why? As a New Yorker l have one word. Upstate. Yes, upstate NY has always been peppered with very conservative voter blocks. With that in mind, and the way the GOP is still collapsing, I'd say that any win for them right now will total nothing more but a small feather in the collective GOP cap. So don't hold your breath...

Posted by: lingo009 | November 2, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

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