The Campaign Spot

Who Should Republican Committees Back in New York’s Special Election?

In the special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district, Newt Gingrich’s endorsement of Republican Dede Scozzafava over Conservative party nominee Doug Hoffman has left some folks on the right “disappointed” with Gingrich (after even more furious reactions initially). Similar reaction has greeted the involvement of the National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican National Committee on behalf of Scozzafava.

Let’s set the clock back to July. The previous representative of that district, John McHugh, indicates he’s going to accept President Obama’s offer to make him Secretary of the Army. There is no provision for a primary in these circumstances; to select the candidate, the chairs of the 11 counties that make up the district get together and interview all eight of the candidates interested. Scozzafava and all of her rivals, including Doug Hoffman, got the chance to make their case to the party chairs. We don’t know who wowed the chairs and who failed to make the most of their chance to make their case.

The county party chairs pick Scozzafava. Maybe that’s the wrong choice, but it is their call. And it’s rather strange to see a hue and cry over national Republican organizations and figures endorsing the Republican in the race.

Scozzafava may be a terrible Republican, but her opponents had the chance to persuade 11 other Republicans why she shouldn’t be the nominee; they did not succeed. Now she is being assisted by other Republican organizations; you’ll notice their titles include “Republican” but not “conservative.” The national party committee’s job is to elect Republicans, not to elect the most conservative candidate.

This is not a defense of Scozzafava. I’m just saying it’s a contradiction if a conservative denounces the National Republican Senatorial Committee, when it backs Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio and Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey (yeah, that one went well), for not letting Republican grassroots have their say, and then denounces the NRCC and RNC when they try to help Scozzafava win. In this case, the NRCC and RNC are backing the choice of the local party, after the choice has been finalized. It may be a lousy choice, but you rarely if ever see national parties overruling the selection of local parties; once you open that door, you face the question of how often these national committees get to exercise a veto over the local parties’ selection.

Republicans in Washington are convinced that Hoffman cannot win a majority; his role in the race will only be to split the non-Democratic vote. While that analysis is debatable, the current polling indicates that the scenario is plausible, reducing the number of House seats in New York occupied by Republicans from three to two.

Scozzafava’s views may be so abominable to rank-and-file Republicans that they cannot in good conscience vote for her, and that’s fine; a vote has to be earned. But conservative Republicans should not expect national Republican organizations to spend money to defeat a Republican candidate in a three-way race.

UPDATE: Michael Patrick Leahy writes, “The nomination of Scozzafava was orchestrated by two powerful liberal members of the local Republican Party organization, and was aided and abetted by several politically inexperienced local county leaders who failed to grasp the tactical significance of shunning the Conservative Party and did not fully understand the details of their nominee’s record, or her potential vulnerabilities.”
Again, the national party committees’ job is not to ensure that local party officials grasp the tactical significance of shunning the Conservative party; national party committees’ job is to elect Republicans. Nobody in Washington can fix local parties that are broken or that mishandle their duties; that’s up to Republicans in New York’s 23rd district.

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