Between 1936 and 1939, a civil war was fought in Spain. In retrospect, that war is seen as a dress rehearsal for World War II, which started soon thereafter. Germany and Italy backed the winning side, whose leader, Francisco Franco governed Spain as a dictator until his death in 1975. The other side was backed by the Soviet Union, and by leftists from the U.S. and elsewhere.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Republicans in the U.S. are positioning themselves for all-out war over their party's 2012 presidential nomination. A special election next Tuesday for a U.S. House seat in New York State's 23rd district has become a proxy war, analogous to the Spanish Civil War, among some of the GOP presidential prospects.
I wrote here about the third-party Conservative candidate who is trying, apparently successfully, to doom the candidacy of a moderate Republican.
Presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty have endorsed the Conservative candidate Douglas Hoffman. Their potential rival Newt Gingrich is supporting the Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava.
Gingrich advocates maximizing the number of Republicans in the House, in order to weaken or eliminate the power of Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who holds the office that had been Gingrich's from 1995 to 1999.
Palin and Pawlenty subscribe to the school of thought (that seems to be predominant among Republicans nationally) that the way to restore their party to power is to present a clear ideological message to the American electorate.
I don't think the New York result will be decisive in resolving the 2012 nomination battle, but any candidate on the winning side might score some points in the battle to emerge from the pack as a front-runner.
The blogosphere is debating the meaning of polls that have been conducted for this contest.
That's more important in this case than it would be in a two-way race. If the third-party candidate Hoffman can prove that he's a viable candidate, that will probably boost his support, in that those who vote for him won't fear that their vote is wasted.
As an aside, the Instant Runoff Voting system, which my native city of Minneapolis is going to try out next week, would eliminate that issue. Not that I'm advocating that. It would encourage more third-party voting, potentially making parties even more ideologically rigid than the Democratic and Republican parties have become. While there are pros and cons to that, on balance, I don't think it would be healthy for the system.
But back to the 23rd district polls.
In 538, Nate Silver makes a cogent argument that polls commissioned by Hoffman's supporters, that show him in the lead, can't necessarily be relied on.
But Chris Cillizza, in The Washington Post's The Fix blog, cites a poll conducted on behalf of the left-wing blog Daily Kos, that shows Hoffman in a dead heat with Democrat Bill Owens.
On the other side, Hoffman's backers on the Power Line blog are strongly arguing that Hoffman is ahead. I think Scott Johnson misses the point, in defending the integrity of the pollster whose results were challenged by Silver. There are many ways in which the biases of a pollster can affect the results. The wording of the questions, the order in which questions are asked, and adjustments to the numbers in an attempt to have the sample better reflect the whole population, tend to sway the results in favor of the sponsors of a poll. To acknowledge that is not to impugn the integrity of the poll-taker.