Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Interesting Electoral Doings in Northern New York

A Usenet post earlier this evening called my attention to an interesting congressional race in New York's 23rd district. The incumbent congressman in a solidly Republican district resigned to become secretary of the army. The Republican party nominated Dede Scozzafava, a relatively left wing candidate, at least by Republican standards. Conservative Republicans objected, and threw their support to Doug Hoffman, the candidate of New York's Conservative party. Saturday, Scozzafava responded to the loss of Republican support by withdrawing from the race and throwing her support to Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate. For a while the race between the Democrat and the Conservative was too close to call, but it now looks as though the Democrat has won.

What I find interesting is not the question of who is going to represent the district but of what the effect will be on Republican politics. The left wing of the Republican party will surely use it to argue that conservatives, by refusing to support centrist candidates, are destroying the party—and it seems like a reasonable argument.

But politics is not entirely about reasonable arguments. The candidate of one party is not supposed to throw her support to the candidate of the other, however much she prefers his policies to those of his opponent. Seen in a certain light, doing so makes her a traitor—not to the nation but to the party, although party loyalists may not draw such fine distinctions. I conjecture that the Republican right will try to use the incident to portray the Republican left as untrustworthy villains not deserving of a voice in party affairs.

Two further points occur to me. The first is that Scozzafava, by withdrawing from the race, may actually have helped, not hurt, Hoffman, since in a three way election the two of them would have split the Republican vote. The second is to wonder what the effects would have been, again on intraparty politics, if Hoffman had won. Conservatives could have offered it as evidence that they are the real strength of the Republican party—although not very good evidence, given that the 23rd is apparently an unusually conservative district. On the other hand, treachery that fails has less of a bite, rhetorically speaking, than treachery that succeeds, so that half of their argument might actually have been weakened by victory.

Heinlein, somewhere in Double Star, one of his better if less well known novels, has a character comment that politics is ugly in a variety of (named) ways—but it's the only game worth playing for grown ups. I can see his point.


Tim Lambert said...

Pardon my ignorance of American politics, but wouldn't loyalty to the Republican Party require you to support the Republican candidate?

David Friedman said...

Tim raises an interesting question. I think part of the answer is that a Republican candidate is seen as a member of the party, obligated to support the party, in a sense in which a voter who votes Republican, or even registers Republican, isn't.

In most contexts, short of very solidly single party areas or subcultures, it's taken for granted that many people who usually vote for one party will sometimes vote for the other. The candidate of one party supporting the other is a more serious matter.

I'm reminded of the occasion when the Libertarian Party got its one electoral vote--from a Nixon elector who took advantage of the fact that, at that time, there was no actual legal requirement that electors cast their vote for the candidate they had been chosen to vote for. It had no effect on the outcome, but I suspect that some people still thought of him as a traitor.

Anonymous said...

The candidate of one party is not supposed to throw her support to the candidate of the other,

Hoffman was not running as a Republican. I fail to see how any conservative who voted for him has a complaint against Scozzafava's lack of loyalty to the Rs.

Well, any valid complaint, but as you note, politics isn't about being reasonable.

Anonymous said...

I don't like to think of myself as a party-line voter -- that is, if I don't know anything about the candidates for a particular office, I'll abstain rather than following the endorsement of a particular party. However, the result is often a pure party-line vote: I can only think of one or two times in my life that I've voted for a candidate of the other major party, and several more than I've voted for a third-party candidate out of disgust with both major-party candidates.

It should be pointed out that when Scozzafava withdrew, her initial statement "left her supporters free to transfer their support as they chose"; only on Monday or Tuesday (I'm not sure) did she officially endorse the Democrat. And technically, she wasn't opposing the Republican candidate; with her withdrawal, there was no Republican candidate.

BobW said...

I'm not always sure that the word "conservative" means the same thing to everyone who uses it.

I think the "conservative" wing of the party was obligated to support the duly chosen nominee. They betrayed her by backing a third party candidate.

dWj said...

She quit the race Saturday, endorsed the Democrat on Sunday. And note that David didn't say anything about whether or not there was a Republican in the race at that point; she was not supposed to throw her "support to the candidate of the other" party, which I would expect would apply with more force to the other "major" party.

I think the party loyalty issue was exacerbated here by the feeling by a lot of conservatives that they had been asked to support her over the conservative, certainly until the last few weeks, on grounds of party loyalty, even if she was quite ideologically distasteful to them. There was a sense of hypocrisy, that she, as a party standard bearer, owed a greater loyalty to the party than the voters did, but was asking more of them than she was offering.

TJIC said...

> Heinlein, somewhere in Double Star, one of his better if less well known novels, has a character comment that politics is ugly in a variety of (named) ways—but it's the only game worth playing for grown ups. I can see his point.

The "game" of business has been pretty fun for me.

The "game" of academics seems like it agrees with you.

I've got to disagree with Heinlein on this one.

Anonymous said...

The Republicans were already certain to lose the election the moment Hoffman jumped into the race with the support of the national Republican party. It's clear that national Rs made a bad judgment call by supporting Hoffman without taking the local political situation into account.

Unknown said...

"Pardon my ignorance of American politics, but wouldn't loyalty to the Republican Party require you to support the Republican candidate?"

Well, loyalty to principles of conservatism precedes party loyalty for much of the Republican base. The Republican appointee was a not even what they considered a moderate, but a union-backed liberal. That wasn't going to fly, and they sent a message to the national party to stop messing with them.

Paul Sand said...

To quibble: Double Star won Heinlein's first Hugo. So I don't know about the "less well known" characterization.

Unknown said...

"I think the "conservative" wing of the party was obligated to support the duly chosen nominee."

Why, because you say so? Is that in the Bible, The Constitution, or some other holy work I'm unaware of?

Loyalty is a two-way street. The US isn't some kind of elitocracy where the anointed ones say jump, and the people ask "how high?"

Besides, the grassroots are often more prescient than the elites. Electing a liberal who was going to support the Democrat agenda could have put the ultimate nail in the coffin of the Republican brand.

Tim Starr said...

My family's from Lewis County, NY, which is in district 23. The Democrats in that county can be counted on your fingers. The same, however, cannot be said for the other counties in the district.

Scozzafava had a good argument for withdrawal from the race, but none for endorsing the Democrat. BTW, she's ideologically to the left of the Democrat on most issues.

Anonymous said...

Let not forget the idiot factor. Scozzafava name did appear twice on the ballot. There was a 2 in 4 chance of her name getting randomly picked and she did get 5.5% of the vote. If her name wasn't on the ballot, Hoffman could have won even with only a few weeks of name recognition.

The GOP seems to want to build a big but empty tent.

neil craig said...

I'm from Britain so I don't really know but would have thought that a Republican stronghold in New York would have been le4ss Republican than most parts of the country. So if the "leftist" Republicans, by going over to the Democrats, can only just throw the seat to them then in other areas they are going to prove a very small part of the Republican vote. There is also the fact that the timing of betrayal is vital (as indeed in Heinlein's book where the ultimate sign of nastiness is quitting a campaign in the middle, albeit not by its leader) & that if this does have repercussions discrediting some Republican leaders it will all be done & dusted before the next Congressional elections.

Jshill42 said...

I found this to be quite interesting also and I am curious if there will be ramifications. I believe one of the comments is incorrect - Steele and the RNC supported Scozzafava - because she was an "R". Newt Gingrich also gave her his suport. The RNC gave at least six figures to Scozzafava. Other conservatives (Sarah Palin and some Tea party groups) gave money to Hoffman. I think both sides can now say they were correct. The RNC is correct in pointing out a race was lost because of the conservatives who refused to play ball. The conservatives are correct that Scozzafava would in essence be a RINO which is of little or no value if principles are important. I would suggest that had Scozzafava not received so much national (RNC) money she would have never even been a factor in the race and would have dropped out earlier.

Anonymous said...

There is a conservative party in New York. This some what third party usually backs the GOP party's candidate except when the GOP candidate supports the DNC platform. There is some pretty good evidence that Scozzafava, if elected, was going to switch parties anyway, so the conservative party ran a candidate.