What the NY-23 Special Election Is Really About

In the span of a few short weeks, the special election in New York's 23rd congressional District has become the one result that the savviest church members are polishing off our sharpest metaphors for.

But what would a victory by the Democrat, Bill Owens, or the Conservative, Doug Hoffmann, actually mean? And is it possible that the political community will over-interpret the consequences? Most certainly. We're all lit-crits now; on Wednesday morning, the real lesson will be decided by whose explanation triumphs in a contested arena: Republicans versus Conservatives, Governing Conservatives versus Theoretical Conservatives, Palin-Beck Crazies versus Sane Modernists.

Before you get there, though, go here:

1. Gays. The Conservative Party got lucky. This perennial, much-maligned, occasionally lucky third party wanted to endorse a candidate who wasn't Dede Scozzafava, whom they just didn't like. They would have endorsed almost anyone else so long as that person would oppose gay marriage. Without Conservative Party chair Mike Long's decision to run a candidate in this district, NY-23 would be much less interesting.

2. Albany Rules. The local party's decision to choose Scozzafava was driven by Albany logic. They picked the insider legislative leader versus outsider businessman. Scozzafava is now the 3rd Albany politician (Former Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, '08 congressional candidate Ray Meier and Dede S.) to run and get attacked for votes in Albany. The Dems have run outsiderish business types and have done well. Indeed, Doug Hoffman is an outsiderish business type. The National Republican Congressional Committee understands this. They drove Democratic State Senator Darrell Aubertine out of the race by attacking him for links to New York Governor David Paterson. Aubertine had beaten Scozzafava in a special election for his senate seat.

3. Albany Sucks. If Hoffmann wins, Scozzafava would be the 3rd Republican to go down for Albany votes. Think that the NY GOP legislators are going to clue in at some point? Tedisco was minority leader. He went down. Dede is whip. She's probably going down, too.

4. Appended on to these ground conditions is a national fight about a whole bunch of things: the Tea Party energy, the stimulus package and the economy, Card Check, conservative activist anger, Social Issues.

5, Appended on these appendages is anger at the GOP in Washington, dissatisfaction with the National Republican Congressional Committee, and attempts by 2012 presidential candidates to earn a chit with the base.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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