Ted Kennedy once said that all politics are local. However, in this column (and in most of Maroon-News commentary pieces) writers rarely discuss local issues, almost never dealing with events in their hometown or here in Hamilton, New York. So when John Lyon suggested we write about the elections in the 23rd Congressional District (the district that includes Hamilton), I was both intrigued and skeptical. As a disclaimer, I must admit that I knew very little about this race before I began researching this column. However, I have found that while the elections for the US House of Representatives in Hamilton’s district are local, the events of the election have large national significance for the future of the Republican Party. Sadly, the events of this election seem to confirm my suspicions that the GOP is moving in the wrong direction, and the results of this election could be the nail in the coffin for this struggling party.
The election in the 23rd District started out simply enough. Dede Scozzafava was chosen by local party leaders to represent the Republican Party and Democrat Bill Owens was chosen to represent the Democratic Party. In a district that has voted Republican for over fifteen years combined with the recent surge of anti-Obama feeling amidst our failing economy, it seemed the Republican candidate would win again. That is until the constituents of the district deemed that Ms. Scozzafava was not “Republican” enough. So as of an October 13 poll published in the Wall Street Journal, 23 percent of the constituents of the 23rd District plan to vote for Doug Hoffman, the candidate of the Conservative Party, backed by Tea Party activists. While the Tea Party movement has no definitive platform, they believe that the Republican Party has strayed too far to the left, specifically when it comes to spending and support ultra-conservative fiscal and social policy.
Some see the Tea Party movement as a jolt of energy to a party that seems old and outdated. After all, seeing thousands march on Washington D.C. with clever signs and slogans about being “Taxed Enough Already” is an exciting development in the mist of Obama fever. However, what these activists fail to realize is that they are not bringing support to the Republican Party, they are tearing it apart. Once Doug Hoffman entered the race and Republicans began to bicker it out, Democrat Bill Owens surged to the lead with 33 percent of the vote.
Why do these “Tea Party” “conservatives” hate Scozzafava so much? After all, she is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, she feels “government spending is out of control,” and she even wrote a letter to former Governor Eliot Spitzer about his lack of morals comparing how he ran the government to “a fraternity mixer.” Yet all of these Republican credentials are cancelled out because she is pro-choice, a supporter of gay civil unions and she took stimulus money to help her economically depressed district. Put simply, she is a moderate.
This election is a symptom of the larger problem of the Republican Party. Instead of trying to attract moderates to save the future of their dying ideas, they are alienating them to court fringe conservative who bring “energy” to the party. We all saw what happened to the GOP when they added Sarah Palin to the ticket. What would have happened had John McCain chosen a moderate like Kay Bailey Hutchison or Joe Lieberman? But instead McCain chose Sarah Palin, a slap in the face to all the moderate, socially liberal Republicans and Independents who had supported McCain in his maverick days.
Like Sarah Palin, Doug Hoffman is creating headlines for the Republican Party. Unfortunately for the GOP, he and Sarah Palin have another thing in common: they are helping a Democrat win a crucial election. Women like Scozzafava who support a woman’s right to choose and men like Charlie Crist (a moderate Republican facing a Tea Party challenger in Florida) who support aggressive government action to deal with climate change are the future of the Party, not the past. I am all for ideological diversity, but the Republican Party is facing a great schism that they may not be able to recover from. Their choice to pick Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate lost my vote and my allegiance to the party. As men like Doug Hoffman appear across the nation in elections, Democrats take the lead. Tea Party conservatives claim they are taking the party back to its roots, but instead of they are taking the party to its grave. Don’t be surprised if the moderates do not show up to the funeral.