Monday, June 28, 2010

NY-23: Examining the McHugh Model

Last fall there was a lot of discussion about former Rep. John McHugh's politics and what they meant for the NY-23 special election. And with good reason. McHugh was reelected again and again, often with more that 60% of the vote. Why wouldn't you examine the record of a hugely successful past representative during the race to find his replacement?

Most of the comparisons went something like this: John McHugh was a moderate Republican. Dede Scozzafava is a moderate republican. Thus, Scozzafava is the McHugh's natural successor, and will be a viable candidate.

Of course, with hindsight, this argument seems invalid. After all, Dede's campaign self-destructed, and a significant share of the Republican voters cast their vote for a hard right conservative candidate. So maybe McHugh had grown increasingly out of touch with his district, and had continued to win only through the power of his incumbency.

Or maybe not.

Here's the thing about the word "moderate" in American politics. It can mean many different things.

The case for Moderate McHugh comes mostly from the fact that he only voted with his party 76% of the time and the rating of 60 he received from the American Conservative Union.

However, that only tells us that McHugh did not subscribe to all aspects of conservative orthodoxy. It says nothing about what specific positions caused him to split from his party and traditional conservative ideology.

A closer look at McHugh's ratings from various interest groups gives us a much more specific picture of his views. For example, McHugh got a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. He also voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. So, unlike Dede, McHugh was no moderate on social issues. He was a fairly mainstream social conservative.

However, McHugh also got a 100% rating from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, an 85% rating from the National Association of Home Builders and a high (for a Republican) 69% rating from the AFL-CIO. Also, he was one of the Republican representatives who voted in favor of the various bailouts, and he favored card check.

With this in mind, we can see that McHugh was a very particular kind of moderate. He wasn't simply in the center on most issues. He was an unwavering social conservative who was also an economic centrist (or pragmatist) and a friend to labor unions.

Compare this to Dede Scozzafava. Like McHugh, Scozzafava was friendly to labor and largely in the center-right on economic issues, but she was also pro-choice and pro-marriage equality. It could very well be that it was her stances on the latter issues, and not the fact that she was a moderate in general, that undermined the viability of her campaign.

Or maybe not, but I think there is still valuable insight to be gained from McHugh's record.

And what does this mean for the current NY-23 hopefuls? I'll have another post up on that topic soon.

NY-23: Thoughts on Hoffman's Petitions

Lately there has been speculation about whether or not Doug Hoffman will be able to obtain the necessary number of signatures to get on the Republican Primary ballot. While Tea Party groups have committed to help with Hoffman's petition drive, some feel that he lacks the organizational power to get enough signatures without the support of the Republican leadership.

There is legitimate reason for concern. After all, the Hoffman campaign hasn't been particularly active or visible until very recently, and it's arguable that the weakness of his campaign's get out the vote effort last November is one of the primary reasons Hoffman isn't in Washington today, preparing for his reelection campaign.

However, he did just receive a high profile endorsement from Dick Armey, and that will certainly help to energize his supporters.

While there hasn't been much info coming out of the Hoffman camp yet, there is at least one parallel race we can look at for an example: Dave Kimmel's primary challenge to Duprey in the 114th Assembly District.

Like Hoffman, Kimmel is a Tea Party movement candidate, backed by the Conservative Party, running against a candidate with strong institutional support. Like Hoffman, it's up to Kimmel and his supporters to get enough signatures to be on the ballot, without support from the local Republicans.

And how is Kimmel doing? Well, on June 17th, he reported on his campaign blog that he had passed the minimum number of required signatures.

This isn't official, of course, and Kimmel only needed 500 signatures, while Hoffman needs 1,250. However, if Kimmel had over 500 signatures by the 17th for a race covering a smaller area with a lower level of interest, it seems likely that Hoffman will be able to get the signatures he needs before mid-July.

Or I could be entirely wrong. We'll know soon.