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NY-23: The Loss That Could Propel a Conservative Surge

4 years ago
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The race for New York-23 has come and gone, but don't underestimate the groundswell of conservatives ready to play significant roles in deciding the future of the GOP.

Just as Barry Goldwater's landslide loss in 1964 awakened conservatives and set the stage for gaining ground later, many conservative activists don't see Doug Hoffman's defeat as a loss so much as a catalyst for future victories. Simply put, NY-23 may go "viral" in its consequences.

Conservatives won't have to wait long to get going. In 2010 there will likely be three races -- the first occurring in March -- with the potential to harness the NY-23 zeitgeist.

To be sure, some will contend that the loss of that historically Republican seat in upstate New York to a Democrat shows that efforts to control Republican nominations are futile, that the loss foretells future defeats. But don't bother reading those tea leaves. Make tea out of them. Throw a tea party.

First of all, the Conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman, did not live in the district -- often a fatal flaw -- and since his campaign was a late entry, it didn't take shape until just weeks before Election Day. Moreover, he was a third-party candidate, and in the American system, you cannot overstate the importance of identifying with a major political party. If Hoffman had been the GOP nominee, he would have won. Dede Scozzafava, though she had withdrawn from the race, was still listed on the ballot as a Republican, and the number of votes she garnered was the difference between winning and losing for Hoffman.

In addition, there had been no tough, conservative challenger in the primary for this election -- because there was no primary at all. Instead, it was a back-room deal that gave us a GOP candidate endorsed by, of all people, extremist left-wing blogger The Daily Kos. Anyone who cites Hoffman's loss in New York as a reason for conservatives to stay out of GOP primaries ahead is missing the point.

And significant primary races dot the horizon: In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (a trailblazer in reducing the size and scope of government) seeks to fend off a challenge from moderate Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. In California, conservative Assemblyman Chuck DeVore seeks to paint former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as an establishment liberal in their race to win the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer. In Florida, former House Speaker Marco Rubio is running for U.S. Senate against moderate Gov. Charlie Crist.

When all is said and done, we will have seen a tug-of-war for the heart and soul of the GOP playing out in three of our largest states (by population). Something to note is that the timeline allows for conservatives to focus and transfer their energies from one state to the next. The Texas primary is in March; three months later the battle shifts to California; after that, it's on to Florida for an August primary.

The Lone Star State is an obvious place for conservatives to partake of a process denied them in NY-23. It's the first of the high-profile primaries and offers a clear choice between candidates: Hutchison, who was just awarded her third "Porker of the Month" demerit from Citizens Against Government Waste, has also been taken to task by the Club for Growth for being among a handful of "Republican Big Spenders." Sarah Palin has already cast her support for Perry, who, though an incumbent, faces a strong challenger in Hutchison.

In Rubio, Florida conservatives have someone they can enthusiastically support. He is young, Hispanic and qualified. Many grassroots conservatives were angry that the National Republican Senatorial Committee endorsed Crist when he entered the race. They saw this as a coronation -- an appalling move for someone who had stood with President Obama to talk up the economic stimulus and has since had to backpedal.

So, ever onward. These are three races where the passionate conservative can and should have an influence. Perhaps that's the silver lining for Doug Hoffman. Though his own political resume was a bit thin, DeVore, Rubio and Perry are all seasoned politicians. If you combine their credibility and infrastructure with the conservative energy we saw in NY-23, you will really have something. Like Goldwater, Hoffman didn't win, but he may have jump-started a movement. Losing a battle doesn't have to mean losing the war.

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