That's what a number of commentators are predicting, mostly based on the fact that a bunch of conservative "outsiders" swooped into NY-23 to support Doug Hoffman, thereby forcing pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, pro-stimulus, liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava to drop out and throw her endorsement to the Democrat. The conservatives have thrown the race to the Democrats, they complain. This, and the Specter primary challenge, will just encourage the few remaining Republicans in the northeast to leave the party entirely.
What's interesting is that most of this wailing comes from Obama voters.
Socially, Scozzafava is certainly closer to my positions than Hoffman. Fiscally, it's more of a toss up--Scozzafava is too soft on government spending, but what little I've read about Hoffman suggests that his approach to government is at best ham-fisted. Nonetheless. I am not a North Country voter, and I am not deluded into thinking that what I want, is what will make the Republican party electorally viable in the future.
Rural Western New York, where my mother is from, is a little different from the northern region of the state, but the politics are similar enough that I can promise you this: Hoffman is not going to lose the party any votes because he betrays the region's historical affinity for gay marriage, of which there is none. The region isn't as socially conservative as the south, but that doesn't mean that they like pro-choice, pro-marriage equality candidates. It means that the issues don't have much electoral salience either way.
Gay people growing up in either upstate region are even more likely to do what most people do anyway: leave. Thanks to the downstate influence, and a hefty dose of yankee farmer practicality, abortion will be legal in New York even if Roe gets struck down. It's an issue that's on the radar of urban activists who spend a lot of time worrying about what happens in Alabama, and ardent pro-lifers. Neither group is going to vote in NY-23.
As for the alleged pernicious influence on the party at large, I remember hearing--indeed, I think, saying--such things about the Netroots attempts to drive their party left in the earlier part of the decade. And as I contemplate the wreckage of the Democratic party, barely holding on to 37 seats . . .
Pardon me, I seem to have become trapped in Karl Rove's fantasy world. Not my finest hour as a political prognosticator.
It is true that this turned out badly in the cases of Lieberman and Specter. But they were both popular incumbents, and the senate gives individual legislators quite a bit of power, especially when the numbers hover close to 60. In general, I don't think that you can credibly say that pushing progressive items like health care and climate change to the forefront of their party's policy agenda has turned out badly for the Democrats.
Now, that's not to say that the Democrats will succeed in passing these things. Arguably, what they've succeeded in doing is creating more space for ideological purity in the Republican party--the less centrist and reasonable your opponents sound, the less you have to fear becoming the crazy ideologue in the race. Once they get into office, even the most ideologically committed legislators become keenly alive to the dangers of losing their seat . . . unless they're in a safe district that agrees with them.
But moving their agenda left has not cost them. And I don't see any empirical reason to believe that it is going to cost the Republicans. Either Hoffman will lose, in which case the strategy of policing the party will lose some of its appeal, or he will win, in which case Blue Dog democrats and Republicans in squishy states will probably tack right--a critical win during the health care debate.
In the long term, the Republican party still has big problems. But as devoutly as I would like to believe that their problem is loudmouthed television and radio hosts who just aren't sophisticated about public policy . . . well, I've yet to see any evidence that the American polity is avid for more sophisticated public policy discussion. Frankly, they seem a lot more interested in plausible enemies and improbable free lunches, which is the level on which both parties are mostly campaigning.