GOP Civil War in New York Portends National Transformation

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The dramatic three-way Congressional race in New York's 23rd district has lost one of its contenders: official Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava has dropped out. Scozzafava's support dried up after nationwide conservative grassroots, led by blogs, attacked her for being too liberal and rallied behind Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. Scozzafava has since endorsed Democratic candidate Bill Owens. With such heavyweights as Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and Vice President Joe Biden getting involved, the stakes are clearly high.

The race in this small upstate district is increasingly seen by local and national observers as a battle between the talk radio right and the GOP establishment. The conservative grassroots have already won what may be the most important part of the race, having ousted Scozzafava and secured top-level GOP support for Hoffman. What will the grassroots' victory in this Republican civil war mean for the future of the troubled minority party finding its way in the Obama era?

  • New Conservative Brand  Nate Silver argues that the GOP, by claiming the third-party outsider as one of their own, could do wonders for the party's troubled brand. "The 'extreme' conservatives do have a few electoral advantages over the moderates: more capacity to generate high turnouts amongst their base, more differentiation from the establishment, and arguably a 'fresher' message (even if it's all in the packaging). If Hoffman does win by some margin, it won't be so clear that these conservatives are in fact less electable than their more moderate Republican brethren, at least in terms of 2010," he writes. "A Hoffman win could have implications for the Republican Senate primary in Florida, perhaps the 2012 nomination contest, and other races."
  • Grassroots Already Winners Over GOP  David Weigel thinks the most important part of this election has nothing to do with Tuesday's results. "Of course, the fate of one congressional district that Republicans have held for more than a century might be less meaningful, in the long run, than the victory conservative activists have scored over their party’s establishment. Would-be Republican leaders such as Newt Gingrich, and to a lesser extent Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, have done themselves some damage by not getting on Hoffman’s bandwagon when it counted. Gingrich, in particular, who appeared on Fox News to make the case for Scozzafava, has quickly become a ridiculed figure among Tea Party activists."
  • Conservative 'Dominance' of GOP  The New York Times's Adam Nagourney suggests Scozzafava's drop-out demonstrates "the dominance of the conservative wing of the party and the likelihood of similar challenges by conservatives to moderate candidates in races across the country next year." He writes, "Even before Election Day, the power of the conservative wing in the Republican Party has been proved. If Mr. Hoffman wins, it will embolden conservatives who have argued that it is a mistake for Republicans to think that the only way to get back into power is to start running more moderate candidates."
  • Coming Republican Civil War  Andrew Sullivan says that a Hoffman victory will embolden the grassroots political insurgency. "From the mindset of an ideologically purist base - where a moderate Republican in New York state is a 'radical leftist' - this makes sense. But for all those outside the 20 percent self-identified Republican base, it looks like a mix of a purge and a clusterfuck. If Hoffman wins, and is then embraced by the GOP establishment, you have a recipe for a real nutroots take-over. This blood in the water will bring on more and more and deadlier and deadlier sharks."

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