Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, tells NRO that the ongoing battle between conservative Doug Hoffman and liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava in the run-up to next month’s special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district could easily help Democrat Bill Owens win the seat in the conservative-leaning district.
“It’s entirely possible that the Democrats will pick up the seat,” says Sabato. “Think about this shift. The New York GOP now has two Republicans in its congressional delegation. After the 1994 elections, it had 13. This district also went to President Obama in 2008.”
“Scozzafava’s views are obnoxious to conservatives, so one wonders now why the tiny committee of local Republicans nominated her,” says Sabato. “Surely they could have found somebody who could have avoided this split. If they had done that, they would have easily kept this seat.”
If Owens ends up winning the seat, Republicans, says Sabato, “will have the opportunity to find a candidate who can bridge the gap and run in November 2010.”
“Incumbency matters, but whoever wins will only have a year in office,” says Sabato. “If 2010 turns out to be a decent year for Republicans, the GOP will have a strong chance to pick the seat up again with a compromise candidate, should they lose it next month. The GOP clearly needs another candidate to step up and bridge the gap between the Republican camps. There is too much emotion tied to both Scozzafava and Hoffman.”
Hoffman, however, could still be that compromise candidate, should he have a good showing in November. “It’s possible that [Hoffman] could win, but if the party decides to go with him in 2010, they need to make sure they can get unified behind him.”
“I know we’re all sick of hearing Tip O’Neill’s line that ‘all politics is local,’” laughs Sabato. “But in this race, it really is. The GOP must find a candidate who fits the district. It shouldn’t be too hard, though Republicans haven’t been doing that. Both sides can learn from this current skirmish. The GOP can’t nominate someone so far out of the mainstream that the right won’t accept, and the right has to allow a couple apostasies, if that’s what it takes to win a district. Both sides can learn, or they can keep losing seats.”