A Lesson from Yesterday's Election
By Bernie Horn
November 4, 2009 - 1:08pm ET
The Republican Party isn’t dead. Republicans can survive, and even thrive, if they appear to embrace moderation. But yesterday, the Sarah Palin-“movement conservative” wing of Republicanism was shown to be wildly unpopular.
As you surely know, Democrat Bill Owens defeated Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman yesterday in the Special Election for Congress in New York’s 23rd district. This was a stunner because the 23rd is a bedrock Republican district—essentially held by the Republican Party for the entire 20th century.
Republicans made the “mistake” of nominating a moderate-conservative woman, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who supports gay rights and abortion rights. The right wing was appalled. The likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck denounced the Assemblywoman.
Sarah Palin jumped on this right-wing bandwagon and endorsed Hoffman over Scozzafava and the race became a cause célèbre for “movement conservatives” across the country. As the New York Times reported:
The Club for Growth, a group that promotes limited government and lower taxes, spent about $1 million promoting Mr. Hoffman. Social conservative organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion, and the National Organization for Marriage, which fights same-sex marriage laws, joined forces in support of Mr. Hoffman. They printed literature, made phone calls and flooded the district with volunteers from across the country.
Assemblywoman Scozzafava shocked everyone when she first withdrew from the race and then, the next day, threw her support to Bill Owens, the Democrat. Despite weekend polls showing that Hoffman would surely win, Owens came out on top.
Here’s the lesson: Voters continue to allow conservative candidates to define themselves. The Republican candidates for governor in both New Jersey and Virginia promoted themselves as practical, mainstream, and moderate—and persuadable voters believed them. But even bedrock Republicans will reject candidates who openly embrace the extremist, tea-bagger philosophy that dominates Republicans in our Nation’s Capital.
There’s another example in yesterday’s election. Right wingers tried to pass a “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” (TABOR) by referendum in the states of Maine and Washington. This is a measure that ties the growth of state, county and local budgets to population growth and the rate of inflation, hamstringing legislators and forcing draconian cuts during any economic downturn. The TABOR initiative was adopted in Colorado in 1992 and extremists have been trying for years to get it passed elsewhere.
But TABOR was defeated handily, by 60 to 40 percent in Maine and by 55 to 45 in Washington. Even in a terrible recession, voters rejected government-by-ideology.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Yesterday’s election stunk, particularly the narrow defeat of same-sex marriage in Maine. But the results of the off-year contests are no great victory for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and certainly not for Sarah Palin.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the book, “Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People”.
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