Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York Special Election

For the second time this year, voters in a New York State congressional district will cast ballots in a special election to fill a U.S. House vacancy. On November 3, that state's 23rd district will choose a successor to Republican John McHugh, whom President Obama has appointed as secretary of the army.

The earlier special election was less directly tied to an Obama nomination. Democrat Scott Murphy was elected to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand, after Gillibrand had in turn been appointed as the interim successor in the U.S. Senate to Obama's choice for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Murphy held for the Democrats a seat that had often voted Republican in the past.

The 23rd is in upstate New York, adjacent to Murphy's 20th district, and it has also historically been Republican territory.

Now for the most interesting twist in the current campaign: major Republicans on the national scene are working to defeat Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate. This New York Times report explains that strange situation in further detail.

New York State has two odd political entities: the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

The Liberal Party was formed in 1944 as a vehicle for the anti-Communist left, that was independent of the Democrats, which the Liberals describe as having been "rife with corruption".

The right wing in that state countered in 1962 by founding the Conservative Party.

Those parties have often endorsed Republican and Democratic candidates, but in some races, they have run third-party candidacies.

The two most famous Conservative candidacies, one successful and one not, were run by members of my favorite political family, the Buckleys. I described those campaigns in this post.

On the other hand, the Liberals' greatest success on their own was the reelection of New York City Mayor John Lindsay in 1969. He lost the Republican primary, but still won the general election, as New Yorkers tend to describe it, "on the Liberal line".

This might seem surprising in this day and age, but the Liberal Party often backed Republican candidates. Those were the so-called "Rockefeller Republicans" that formerly dominated that party in New York.

However, they never endorsed Nelson Rockefeller himself in any of his runs for governor. But they did support Republican U.S. Senate candidates such as Charles Goodell and Jacob Javitz.

Now, the Conservative Party is attempting to replicate its victory in the 1970 Senate election, when its nominee James Buckley defeated Goodell, who was Rockefeller's appointee to replace the late Robert Kennedy in the Senate.

Douglas Hoffman is running on the Conservative line against Scozzafava in the 23rd district special election. Many Republicans consider her to be too far to the left, and they prefer to take the chance of allowing a Democratic victory, rather than putting a latter-day Rockefeller Republican in the seat.

As I've repeatedly noted, northeastern Republicans have become an endangered species. What is the best way to stave off extinction?

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