Much has been made over the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District. For some, the attention might seem a bit much, given that it is merely one of 435 House seats.
In reality, this race is about much more than one House seat.
It is a proxy battle in the long-running war between establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives. Although GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava endorsed the Democrat over Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, after quitting the race with three days to go, Hoffman looks poised to win.
One front in the battle over the heart and soul of the GOP is the 2012 presidential race, and the NY-23 drama is not without presidential implications. Sarah Palin's surprise endorsement of Hoffman helped elevate his visibility while also cementing her status
as the favorite presidential candidate of the grassroots conservative "tea party" set. This designation might come in handy in, say, Iowa, if she decides to run for the GOP nomination.
I'm not alone in the notion that a congressional election endorsement in 2009 might impact a 2012 presidential run. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty,
a man believed to have national aspirations of his own, subsequently joined Palin in backing Hoffman.
Another front in the battle for the GOP involves conservative organizations. Of the many groups that rallied around Hoffman, the fiscally conservative organization Club for Growth
was the most significant. Its endorsement of the Conservative Party candidate was a tipping point that signaled others that Doug Hoffman could compete financially. The club's support gave every other organization and activist a reason to believe the race was "winnable" – so it really had a multiplier effect.
A Hoffman victory would, in turn, help the Club for Growth. Despite its powerhouse status, the club has been criticized for endorsing conservative challengers who only go on to lose the general election to a Democrat. A win in upstate New York could alter that narrative.
Another change seems to be that conservative bloggers have more clout than ever.
The conservative blogosphere has long been accused of being a paper (or electronic) tiger, but bloggers such as Erick Erickson of RedState
have forced the issue this year, and the GOP appears stronger, not weaker, as a result.
All of this, of course, would be pretty insignificant if NY-23 were merely a one-time phenomenon, but as I described earlier, this is actually a proxy battle for a larger war – one that continues to play out. If conservatives have their way, Dede Scozzafava is merely the first casualty of this war.
As I write this, conservatives are already planning to replicate their efforts in at least two U.S. Senate races – in California, where Chuck DeVore is challenging establishment candidate Carly Fiorina in the race to oust Barbara Boxer – and in Florida, where former House Speaker Marco Rubio is challenging Gov. Charlie Crist in the race to replace the retiring Mel Martinez.
The wealthy Fiorina is a former Hewlett Packard CEO. DeVore, an assemblyman in the California Legislature, is a conservative favorite. Although the National Republican Senatorial Committee
has not officially endorsed Fiorina, conservative blogs have accused party regulars of working behind the scenes to prop up her campaign.
Upon entering the Florida Senate race, Gov. Crist was immediately endorsed by the NRSC, despite the fact that Rubio, a popular Hispanic conservative, was already in the race. For a while, Crist seemed unbeatable, but he has recently begun to slide in the polls. As the St. Petersburg Times reported
, "The bottom is falling out beneath Florida's once hugely popular governor." This prompted NBC's Chuck Todd to wonder on Twitter if Florida is the "Next stop for #ny23's nat'l Hoffman backers?"
As RedState's Erickson told me, "The establishment has now learned it can be beaten from within its own base . . . If the GOP wants to fight the base in California and Florida, game on."
He added, rhetorically: "Do they want that?"