Republican Dede Scozzafava had the Congressional race in New York's 23rd district all locked up. Democrat Bill Owens posed no threat and third-party Doug Hoffman of the Conservative Party was making a mostly symbolic run. But then the conservative grassroots got involved, launching a national campaign against a Scozzafava for her moderate policies and against her GOP backers in the party establishment. Now Scozzafava is down in the polls and Owens may win the seat he was never considered a serious chance for. At the vanguard of the grassroots campaign has been Erick Erickson, blogger and editor of RedState.
Erickson has made NY23 his mission. Erickson called the race "a Hill to Die On" for conservatives. He accused Scozzafava of "Funnel[ing] Campaign Cash to Family." He slammed Newt Gingrich, Scozzafava's most high-profile backer, writing, "Today Newt Gingrich Takes Himself Out of the 2012 Running [...] Gingrich no longer wants to nor can he be seen as a conservative." Erickson called for Scozzafava to withdraw and demanded new national GOP leadership. He even raised money for Hoffman. The wider conservative world took note, and soon endorsements for Hoffman rolled in from Sarah Palin, the Club for Growth, Steve Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, even sitting Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
What was a small Congressional race in upstate New York has become all-out war among Republicans, one which Erickson's grassroots movement seems to have won. His belief that it is better for Republicans to lose this race than to adopt a strategy of electing moderates is quickly becoming orthodoxy. Republican leadership may be forced to accept Erickson's message that moderate Republicans will be destroyed and only strongly conservative candidates tolerated. If they do, Erickson and his vast grassroots network will have altered the party's electoral orthodoxy. Whether that would be an effective strategy is disputed, but there would be no question of Erickson's influence.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.