The Corner

Owens Makes a ‘Smart Move’

Rep. Bill Owens, a Democrat from upstate New York, may back House Republican leader John Boehner for speaker. New York–based GOP pollster John McLaughlin tells National Review Online that Owens is reading the tea (party) leaves.

“He might as well start talking to Speaker Boehner about switching parties,” McLaughlin says. “Either way, he’s got to be worried about reapportionment in New York State; we’re scheduled to lose two House seats and the Democrats may be ready to give him up. It’s a courageous move; it’s also a smart move.”

On Election Day, New York Republicans picked up at least six House seats. “Owens is looking at the trends in upstate New York,” McLaughlin says. “He knows that he just missed suffering the same fate as Democrats like Scott Murphy, Dan Maffei, and Michael Arcuri. He’s really surrounded; he knows that if he doesn’t do something bold, he’ll be gone. It’s a timely revolt.”

After Rep. Heath Shuler, a Blue Dog Democrat, lost his bid for minority leader to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing speaker, swing-district Democrats are squirming. “Owens may be sending a signal to moderate Democrats,” McLaughlin says. “At this point, they may have to do something drastic in order for President Obama and Pelosi to get the message. Owens, more than any outsider, knows what’s really going on inside of that caucus. With this kind of statement, he’s likely showing that he’s willing to vote with Republicans on upcoming bills, be it on tax cuts or other big-ticket items.”

Owens, who represents New York’s 23rd congressional district, won a hotly contested special election in 2009 over Conservative Doug Hoffman. A year later, he eked out a narrow victory once again, leading a crowded ballot that included Hoffman and Republican nominee Matt Doheny.

Come 2012, McLaughlin predicts that Owens will likely face another steep challenge. The district, he points out, has long been held by Republicans, including former Rep. John McHugh, who left Congress to become President Obama’s secretary of the Army. In 2008, Obama won the district with 52 percent of the vote. President Bush won it in 2004 and 2000.

“It’s pretty clear that if the Republicans and conservatives had united behind one candidate, they would have beaten Owens both times,” McLaughlin says. “Instead, conservatives have split the field, enabling Owens to barely win. Next time around, Owens knows that he probably won’t be that lucky.”

(Earlier this month, I wrote about GOP House gains in New York for the Wall Street Journal.)

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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