Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking at the Results

...and the returns are in. Congrats to the GOP for electing two new governors; congrats to the Dems for retaining one House seat and picking up another.

What else is worth saying?

1. It's a good night for Republicans. Going into a redistricting cycle, I'd rather have the governors of NJ and VA than a single seat in NY. Winning is certainly better than losing.

2. There will, no doubt, be all sorts of consequences for the people of New Jersey and Virginia, Maine and Washington, and Atlanta, Detroit, New York, and the other jurisdictions that had elections today. There will not be any significant consequences outside of that, nor is there any great meaning to be figured out from the returns.

3. I've been going back and forth a bit with Seth Masket about the consequences of NY-23. Here's what he said tonight. I agree with just about all of it, but when Seth says:
So now what [conservatives have] done is proven the importance of ideological positioning -- if you nominate too extreme a candidate, you lose the election. So the folks in the Republican Party who sabotaged Scozzofava and rallied around Hoffman now look silly and more than a tad disloyal. They cost their party a seat in Congress.
I'm very skeptical about that. To outsiders, sure, the conservatives "look silly and more than a tad disloyal." But I really don't think that's how most Republicans are going to interpret NY-23. I think they are going to consider the formal party officials of NY-23 the villains of the piece. For them, this will be the story of a near-outrage that was foiled by a determined group of conservatives, and despite all disadvantages the conservative candidate nearly won. From that point of view, it was the party officials of NY-23 who were the disloyal ones, and it was their mistake in nominating an unacceptable candidate that cost Republicans this seat.

I think most Republican elites will either believe that version of events, or act as if they believe it.

Anyway, if Seth is right, then tonight's Democratic victory in NY-23 will have real consequences. If I'm right, it won't. The thing to look for (I think Seth would agree) is whether GOP elites react by actively opposing the Beck/Rush/Palin forces in upcoming primaries. Another thing to look for is how recruiting goes for the Republicans (a lot of '10 recruiting is already done, but not all of it), but here the GOP wins in VA and NJ will probably help some; at any rate, it's a lot harder to measure the effect on recruiting because there are multiple things going on. And a third thing to look at is how GOP candidates next year treat the Palinite, tea party wing of the party.

4. I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating: the one real consequence for 2010 from tonight is that VA and NJ should help Republicans in their efforts to recruit strong candidates.

And don't forget -- campaigning is well under way for 2010, especially in those states that have early primaries. It's an election year!


  1. Good points, but one quick comment: New Jersey has a bipartisan redistricting commission, with Larry Bartels sometimes breaking the tie. Yes, it's definitely good for the GOP to control the governor's office, but it won't help much come redistricting time.

  2. I did not know that. I'm pretty sure that Iowa and Arizona have goo goo commissions, but I didn't know about NJ.

    Very interesting.

  3. In addition, because the VA legislature is divided between the parties, the next redistricting will probably go to the courts regardless of who's governor.

    I also think the disloyalty question in NY-23 is complicated, to say the least, by the Republican candidate's decision after dropping out to endorse (and tape a robocall for) the Democratic candidate, which may well have sealed his victory. That's pretty disloyal itself, any way you look at it, and has the effect of validating the conservative complaint that Scozzafava was not a "real" Rep/Con but instead a liberal in GOP clothing.

    I think part of the nerdy political science take here should be that the events of NY-23 help to demonstrate one of the advantages of primary elections for parties even though they take power away from party organizations. I think it's likely that the nationally-mobilized conservative opposition would not have been as strong had Scozzafava been chosen in a primary and thus able to claim a certain amount of popular legitimacy as the Republican candidate. (Whether she would have won a primary against Hoffman or another conservative opponent is, of course, an open question.)

    Finally, I'm wary of overinterpretation of special elections, but I think the results represent another data point in favor of the view that a significant portion of the conservative movement fails to perceive a tradeoff between ideological purity and electoral success that, at least in some cases, holds in reality. Certainly, one increasingly visible consequence of this view is the Republican Party's endangered status in the Northeast, at least in federal elections. Gee, somebody should write a dissertation about that...


  4. FYI: Here's the list of "redistricting by commission" states.

    I think Dave is right to bring up the executive/legislative divide in redistricting politics. If New Jersey didn't have its commission, the legislature is still controlled by the Democrats, but Christie would have the ability to shoot any proposal down. It is sad we won't get to see that potential battle, especially considering New Jersey is seen as a state that may lose a seat after the census.

    I don't know about Virginia, though. Yes, the Democrats control the Senate, but only narrowly (21-19). That narrow majority might have its will tested in a battle over new lines.

    Speaking of redistricting and NY-23: There has been some chatter in recent days about the district being eliminated following the census.

    As for the blame-placing in last night's election, I fall somewhere in the middle. Tim Pawlenty, for instance, continued to talk about the lack of a primary for selecting the nominee in the North Country district. That is something that will resonate and falls at the feet of the party elites that selected Scozzafava. At the same time, though, those same elites may have had their hands tied by Hoffman's showing last night. As Mike Murphy retweeted yesterday, "@murphymike: RT @JonHenke: Doug Hoffman wins the Republican Primary in #NY23. The general election is 2010." Hoffman has until the September primary (if New York isn't forced to move it up to an earlier date) to do exactly what Pat Toomey is doing in the Pennsylvania Senate race: moderate to some degree (ideally, to the candidate, as little as possible). Silly conservatives or not, Hoffman likely earned the right of first refusal for next year.

  5. Methinks that the triumph of getting 45% for a 3rd party will embolden the knuckle-draggers. I kinda think they're right, or at least that we need to revisit the accepted wisdom on Duverger's Law.

    Perhaps its enough for contests to reduce to any top two candidates on opposing sides of the district's median, without requiring that it reduce to 2 parties. In a sense, it provides more evidence for the Aldrich view of parties as slaves to their masters. I'm curious what Jon and Seth make of this for the whole 'invisible parties' literature. Does it mean we should be using the term "invisible coalition" instead?

  6. I know I'm beating the same drum again, but...

    On the interpretation of NY-23, you're leaving out the most important thing: what drives the folks who created the Hoffman craze in the first place, which is money. As I've blogged, this was nothing but a huge success for them -- enormous fundraising by CfG, Alan Keyes's groups, and a bunch of others; big boost in traffic (and prestige) for RedState et al; huge money for Red Sea and other conservative consultants; etc. etc. Of COURSE they'll do it again, and make the 2010 primaries about this, and recruit candidates for independent campaigns. It's their business model.

    The most important thing about NY-23 is that the Dick Armey/Club for Growth crowd demonstrated, yet again, that they now control the Republican base -- and anyone else, from Pete Sessions to Newt Gingrich, can join or get run over.


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