Chris Stirewalt on NY-23 Election

What third-party Doug Hoffman has in common with Barack Obama

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Of tomorrow's four major races--New Jersey governor, Virginia governor, New York City mayor, and New York 23rd Congressional district--the last is the smallest but carries the widest national significance. A nationwide grassroots conservative movement, propelled by conservative bloggers, ousted official Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava and led an informal fundraising drive for third-party candidate Doug Hoffman. Now Hoffman, who has gained the support of Sarah Palin and other party luminaries seeking to score points with the grassroots, looks likely to trounce Democrat Bill Owens.

There is no shortage of analysis on what the grassroots' defeat of the beltway establishment in the NY23 civil war means for the future of the Republican party. Many liberals thrill at the possibility of a permanent Republican fissure, while conservative bloggers now claim party dominance. In the intra-Republican debate over the party's future, conservative Chris Stirewalt of the Washington Examiner argues that both the grassroots and the establishment come out ahead. The conflict, he says, makes the establishment stronger by exciting the base and makes the grassroots stronger by helping it to seek out the best candidates. Stirewalt says his case is demonstrated by none other than Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton's surrogates said that Obama shouldn't have even run because a primary challenge would divide the party and weaken Clinton for the general election showdown with inevitable Republican nominee Rudy Giuliani. Obama correctly rejected that notion, saying that a contested primary would energize, not demoralize, the Democratic base. [...]

The lesson of the Obama ascendancy is that an enthusiastic base coupled with a reasonable-sounding candidate can win elections. The GOP remains unpopular, and the movement against career politicians is real. If the party wants to maximize its gains in 2010, it will need to look more like Doug Hoffman than Dede Scozzafava.

Stirewalt also addresses liberals who interpret Hoffman's victory as evidence that the GOP is becoming unsustainably conservative. Republicans, he reminds us, said the same thing about Obama being too liberal. "It was the hard work and money of the Left that propelled Obama into the White House," he writes. The grassroots and establishment fought bitterly over New York 23, but Stirewalt notes that the two ultimately came together in a way that made the party more unified and more appealing.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.