Two races – two standards.
Race one: the special election for New York’s 23rd congressional district. New York Republican leaders engineered the nomination of Deirdre Scozzafava, a leader of the Republican minority in the state assembly.
Many conservatives find Scozzafava an uninspiring candidate, and not only because of her liberal social views. Deeply embedded in the crony culture of Albany, Scozzafava was chosen above all for her fundraising skills.
So conservatives have rallied to the third party candidacy of Doug Hoffman. (See the Club for Growth’s anti-Scozzafava ad, here.)
Result: a 9-point lead for Democrat Bill Owens.
Race two: the New Jersey gubernatorial election.
Here too a third-party candidate has upended the race. Only this time, the third party challenger is a more liberal Republican, former EPA administrator Chris Daggett. Daggett’s good government record, his highly detailed fiscal plans, and his appealing personality have boosted him to 13.6% in RCP’s average of state polls. (See here for a Daggett ad that amusingly lampoons Democratic governor Jim Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie.)
Result: Christie’s lead over Corzine, 10 points in mid-summer, has vanished to 0.8 points in October.
My good friend Jim Geraghty observes at National Review: “I realize this statement will break the heart of supporters of Chris Daggett, the independent running for governor in New Jersey, but he’s acting as incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine’s bodyguard.”
Here at NewMajority, John Vecchione likewise derides Daggett as a spoiler.
From an electoral point, Geraghty and Vecchione are exactly correct. But isn’t the same thing true of Doug Hoffman? Yet the electoral arithmetic that seems all-important in New Jersey matters not a bit in NY-23, where national conservative leaders have queued to endorse Hoffman over Scozzafava.
Agreed: Hoffman seems a much more attractive candidate than Scozzafava, and would probably make a much better member of Congress.
But I interviewed Daggett this past weekend, and I can attest – this independent too is a much more attractive candidate than his official Republican rival.
His proposals for balancing the state’s books are detailed and workable. He’d extend the state’s 7% sales to cover services as well as goods. He’d end the hodge-podge of property tax rebates. He’d then use the money gained to finance an across-the-board property tax cut and also reductions in corporate income taxes. (A fuller statement of the plan can be read here.)
Daggett emphasizes New Jersey’s most important environmental issue: the preservation of open spaces from urban sprawl. He’d use state funds to buy and preserve open land. He favors major ethics reform to try to clean up New Jersey’s notoriously corrupt political culture.
Like most New Jersey Republicans, he is unexcited by social issues, accepting the status quo on abortion, guns, and gay rights. (On that last, he says he’ll leave the issue to the legislature. If they pass same-sex marriage, he’ll sign it.) And make no mistake: Daggett has been a Republican almost all his life. A protégé of former Governor Thomas Kean, he was appointed as state Environmental Protection Agency administrator by Ronald Reagan.
Daggett would make a very good governor. The rules of American politics seem likely to deny him his chance. But here’s the question for a national conservative audience:
If you are reconciled to losing NY-23 in order to send a warning to the GOP not to ignore Hoffman voters, what if anything do you have to say to Daggett voters? While Hoffman voters form the party’s base nationwide, Daggett voters are the swing voters the GOP must win to regain its competitiveness in the northeast. Without Hoffman voters, the Republican party would not exist. Without Daggett voters, the Republican party cannot win a national majority.
Can this marriage be saved?
Based on the issues, the answer would seem hopeful. Republicans managed to hold a Daggett-Hoffman coalition together in the 1980s after all. Even now, Daggett-style politics with its emphasis on fiscal responsibility would seem a much more natural ally of small government conservatism than free-spending Obama liberalism.
The problem is the cultural divide, and by that I mean more than simply the hot-button social issues.
To see the cultural divide spreading wide, please do read the Democracy Corps’ study of conservative Republicans released last week. It’s worth reading in full.
Democracy Corps convened two focus groups, one of Georgia self-described conservative Republicans, another of older, white independents in Cleveland. Let’s stipulate that the Democracy Corps is headed by James Carville and Stan Greenberg, that it is a highly partisan project of the Democratic party, and that focus groups lack the objectivity of opinion polling. Sprinkle all that salt over the report, and it still has the ring of truth.
The Democracy Corps report suggests that the most conservative Republicans make up 20% of the American electorate. They are indispensable to the GOP and provide much of its loyalty and energy. At the same time, they see the country in ways radically different from the moderate and swing voters the GOP needs to regain.
[C]onservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives. They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.
This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity. In our conversations, it was striking how these voters constantly characterized themselves as part of a group of individuals who share a set of beliefs, a unique knowledge, and a commitment of opposition to Obama that sets them apart from the majority of the country. They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country – a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal media and class of elites. They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more.
How do we bridge the gap between voters who think this way –and the Northeastern suburban pro-environment, fiscally responsible, good –government voters to whom a Chris Daggett appeals? They are two radically different cultures, two radically different ways of viewing the universe.
Discovering some unity between them is the great challenge for Republicans ahead – in NY-23, in New Jersey, and in the whole country.