The 23rd Congressional District in northern NY sent the GOP and national parties in general a strong message on Tuesday. “Keep your ideological paws off my local candidate!”
What started as an otherwise uneventful special election for a rural seat in Congress burst onto the national stage when the GOP machine decided the locally appointed Republican candidate was not conservative enough for the Fox Nation. In defiance of the local party, the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and William Kristol smeared GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava and backed Doug Hoffman, a 3rd party candidate. It got so ugly that just prior to the race, Scozzafava withdrew and backed Democratic opponent Bill Owens. It turns out that Owens handily won the seat in the election, thus costing the Republicans a seat they had held for over a century.
I highly doubt the GOP was thinking that they’d rather have another Democrat in Congress rather than a Republican who’s voting record may lean right, but who’s social attitudes leaned pro-choice and tolerant of gay marriage. Rather, I think they simply “misunderestimated” the influence of the national party on the local scene. And possibly the backlash against trying to be manhandled from afar.
I know in my community (and most of the suburbs of Rochester), we have consistently elected Republicans to office. I don’t know why. It’s mostly a matter of inertia or maybe of self identity. Is my town supervisor a dyed in the wool conservative? Is my highway superintendent Pro-Life? I haven’t a clue. However, they get elected because they are well liked and well thought of, they reflect the people of the community, and they do a good job. Should that change, then someone else who fits that bill runs on the Republican ticket and gets elected. It’s not remotely a good example of how a two-party system should function, but it’s a reality, and a pretty harmless one.
The upshot is that being a Republican (or any party affiliate) in a regional or rural area doesn’t necessarily translate well to being an ideologue of that party’s national position. So like your mother always told you… keep your hands to yourself.