Just four days before the election, Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava abandoned her campaign for the congressional seat in New York's 23rd Congressional district. Why? "It was time to do the right thing, which is to release the Republican County chairs, they've stood by me this entire time, and let them do what's best for the Republican Party," she told a local TV station. A series of polls showed Scozzafava in third place, well behind Democrat Bill Owens and, suddenly, Conservative Doug Hoffman, who had stolen about half of Scozzafava's base. Where do the rest of her votes go? CW says that most go to Hoffman, but I'm with Jonathan Martin: I think half go to Democrat Bill Owens or they stay home. GOP registration exceeds Democratic registration by nearly 50,000. This is a Republican district that is likely to remain Republican, -- only significantly more conservative than it's been.
Hoffman has harnessed several shoots of energy, including anti-incumbent sentiment, conservative opposition to liberal Republicans, and the iatropic excitement that's generated when conservative activists suddenly coalesce around a candidate.
Republicans will derive two lessons from the results of this race. One is that the activist base of the party is becoming increasingly powerful in the one area that had eluded them: candidate selection. Other conservative Republicans may now feel more comfortable if they decide to challenge incumbents in primaries. Democrats, believing that Republicans will conservatize-themselves to death demographically, will take this as a positive trend for the long-term. The second lesson is that populist, regular guy candidates win in supposedly "moderate" districts.
The race had become a proxy for debates about the future of the party. Since the situation in NY 23 is so unusual, it may be folly to squeeze out more meaning than's already present.