Lessons of NY-23
What can conservative New Englanders learn from the defeat in NY-23?


Michael Graham

Losing NY-23 may be the first step toward victory for Northeastern Republicans.

Doug Hoffman’s congressional race was watched very closely by conservatives across the region, people like Jennifer Horn of New Hampshire’s 2nd District.

Horn, an outspoken conservative and a tea-party Republican, ran for the seat last year against Democrat Paul Hodes, and lost. Now Hodes is running for the U.S. Senate, and Horn is a candidate for the open seat.

So is Charlie Bass, the moderate-to-liberal Republican incumbent Hodes defeated in 2006. Bass is the sort of GOP squish that drives conservatives crazy: in favor of cap-and-trade, in favor of gay marriage, voted to let minors be transported across state lines for abortions, and so on. He also held that seat for the GOP for twelve years.

The way Jennifer Horn sees it, Bass is going to play the establishment Scozzafava to her populist Hoffman candidacy.

But now that the Democrats have picked up NY-23 with 49 percent of the vote — the other 51 percent split between the Conservative and Republican lines — is that really the story Horn and other conservatives want to tell?

What New England Republicans need is victories. It’s hard to describe to outsiders the hopelessness that potential Republican candidates feel living in a place like Massachusetts. The state House is 90 percent Democratic. Ninety percent! There isn’t a single Republican in the state’s ten-member delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives — or in the delegation of any other New England state, for that matter. There hasn’t even been a competitive congressional race in Massachusetts for a decade.

Last April, I organized a candidate training school for Republicans and independents who wanted to challenge incumbents at the state and local level. About 125 regular citizens showed up, determined to run, but clearly resigned to the idea that they were engaged in an act of Pickett’s Charge politics.

Yesterday’s election results, particularly in blue state New Jersey, have given New England Republicans something they haven’t had in a long time: hope. Conservatives are starting to believe they can take that hill after all.

In Massachusetts, for example, supporters of Gov. Deval Patrick have been relying on knee-jerk partisanship and the presence of a third, independent candidate (the state treasurer, Tim Cahill) to keep the unpopular Democrat in office next year. But now his GOP challenger, Charlie Baker, is looking stronger, given that Gov. Jon Corzine had those same advantages — and a whole lot more money than Patrick — and he still lost.