Rachel Maddow talks to Steve Benen about the Republican infighting going on in the New York 23rd District's special election. As Steve noted yesterday
October 29, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks to Steve Benen about the Republican infighting going on in the New York 23rd District's special election. As Steve noted yesterday:

Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd continues to pick up endorsements from leading right-wing figures. Yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) bucked his party and threw his support to Hoffman. Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Dana Rohrabacher of California did the same thing.

Transcript from MSNBC.

MADDOW: This is Betsy Markey. She‘s the Democratic member of Congress representing Colorado‘s fourth district. Betsy Markey got elected to that seat last November when she defeated a three-term, very far-right Republican incumbent named Marilyn Musgrave.

Even Colorado‘s—even as Colorado was thought of as a pretty safe Republican territory, the incumbent Republican, Ms. Musgrave, just got clobbered by the Democrat in this race. She lost by 12 points, wasn‘t even close.

This race is ringing a bell for you maybe because it‘s the only House race from the last election that we were still covering a week after the election was over, because not only did Marilyn Musgrave make news for being a conservative Republican who got trounced in what was supposed to be a safe seat, on this show at least, Ms. Musgrave also made news because even a week after she lost, she still hadn‘t conceded the race, nor had she called to congratulate Betsy Markey who beat her.

We called Betsy Markey‘s office today and confirm that even now, almost a year after that election, Republican Marilyn Musgrave still hasn‘t conceded the race. It‘s possible she still thinks she‘s in Congress.

Well, today, in “The New York Times,” we learned that one of the things Marilyn Musgrave is up to now is campaigning in a New York congressional race that‘s attracted a whole host of ambitious conservatives to rail against the locally-chosen Republican in the race in favor of a more conservative candidate.

Undeterred by the fact that the conservative party candidate doesn‘t actually live in the district in which he‘s running, undeterred by the local press saying the conservative party candidate has, quote, “no grasp of the bread and butter issues pertinent to district residents,” undeterred by any of that, a whole conga line of conservatives, who are not exactly famous for winning things, have decamped to this rural Upstate New York congressional race to try to make a national, political point.

Joining Marilyn Musgrave, famously for not only losing but then for refusing to concede, there‘s Rick Santorum, equally famous for using the phrase “man on dog” in a national interview, and for the peculiar margin by which he lost his Senate seat in Pennsylvania . Rick Santorum was the incumbent and he lost by 18 points. That was one for the record books.

Also stumping for the conservative party candidate and against the Republican is Steve Forbes, famous for spending somewhere north of $100 million of his own Forbes dollars running for president. You may recall that he did not win, nor did Fred Thompson.

Fred Thompson, actor. Also campaigning for the conservative party candidate in Upstate New York against the Republican and, of course, Mr. Thompson‘s own catastrophic presidential run last year, famous as one of the most spectacular political flame-outs in modern politics. Mr. Thompson has even now cut an ad for the conservative party Upstate New York candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN AD)

FRED THOMPSON, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America is in trouble. So, when your grandchildren ask you why you didn‘t do something, be able to tell them that you voted for Doug Hoffman. He‘s not a career politician, Doug is like us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Doug‘s like us, you know, career politicians who work as actors and sometimes as lobbyists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: He‘s not a career politician, Doug is like us—a concerned neighbor who‘s just had enough. He‘s a principled conservative who‘ll come home when the job is done. We can send Washington a message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: We can send Washington a message—that‘s what all of these ambitious conservatives from the states like Tennessee and Colorado and all over the country are doing in this little Upstate New York special election. They are trying to send a national message that the Republican Party should be way more right-wing and they should know, they are all famous for losing important elections. Musgrave, Santorum, Forbes, Fred Thompson, even Sarah Palin. The marquee name conservatives racing from across the country to overrule local Republicans and instead offer their own strategic guidance on their race, they are all famous for losing.

And then spare a thought for Tim Pawlenty, who is a marquee name conservative, who is not, at this time, famous for losing, but who is also now racing from across the country to overrule local Republicans in Upstate New York to instead endorse the conservative party candidate, because that‘s what it takes to be taken seriously in Republican politics right now, allying yourself with the electoral brilliance that is Marilyn Musgrave.

As the Republican Party searches for its path out of the political wilderness, consider who they have chosen to lead the way.

Joining us now is Steve Benen, who writes for WashingtonMonthly.com.

Thanks very much for coming on the show, Steve. Good to see you.

STEVE BENEN, WASHINGTONMONTHLY.COM: Thanks. Good to be here.

MADDOW: OK. Tim Pawlenty is not often put alongside the Marilyn Musgraves and Sarah Palin and Minutemen wing of the Republican Party. What do you think he‘s doing supporting Doug Hoffman?

BENEN: I think he‘s sending a message and that message is: he‘s running for president. At this point, everyone in the base is looking to see who is going to be signing up on the Hoffman campaign and it‘s something of a litmus test. I think that anyone who wants to be taken seriously in 2012 is going to have to demonstrate right now that they‘re supporting the Hoffman campaign.

And Pawlenty has been an interesting case; it‘s an interesting case right now. He has what I kind of call Romney-itis. He‘s a blue state governor known for not being somewhat reasonable, somewhat pragmatic on some issues and yet demonstrates at the - the Tea party crowd that he can be just as big a - a tea bagger as anyone else. And so, here he is right now, supporting Hoffman for just that reason.

MADDOW: Let‘s talk about one specific thing that I know that you wrote about at Washington Monthly today, Steve, and it was about Hoffman‘s meeting with the Watertown Daily Times, the local paper. Mr. Hoffman, who‘s the Conservative Party candidate who‘s being championed by all these out of town conservatives, he went to meet with the local editorial board. He brought Dick Army, the Texas former lobbyist, with him to the meeting. The meeting went very poorly, and Mr. Army‘s presence specifically seems to have infuriated the editorial board.

What do you make of that - of that meeting, both the strategic decision to do it but also how it went?

BENEN: Yes. This is a complete disaster for the Hoffman campaign.

The paper - the local paper in New York had run an editorial that morning. They kind of signaled where they were - what they wanted to talk to - to Hoffman about. And when he got there, he apparently was not prepared to talk about any local issues, nothing about local transportation, local economy.

He, actually, at one point asked that he be given the questions in advance in order to be able to do the interview more effectively. And - and at that point, the - the Texan who had chaperoned Hoffman to this editorial board meeting intervened and suggested that local issues are really parochial issues.

So in other words, if you‘re interested in what‘s going on in the district, those questions are not important. What you should be thinking about are the big-picture questions. And so in other words, I think we‘re getting into a situation where Hoffman considers himself part of a movement, not necessarily part of a district. I don‘t imagine that‘s going to go over well with - to some local voters.

MADDOW: Particularly because he doesn‘t live in the district, which is also an awkward part of this. It‘s next Tuesday night. It‘s really, really late. We‘re getting in the results of the governors‘ races and the special elections from around the country.

See, what do you think the results from New York 23 are going to be? And what do you think the national ripples will be, given how much Conservatives have staked on this one little race?

BENEN: What‘s that Yogi Berra expression? Predictions are hard especially, about the future. I don‘t know who‘s going to win that race, obviously, but I think that, you know, that we can look at some of the polling. A couple of weeks ago, there was polling suggesting that - that Owens, the Democratic candidate, was pulling ahead because the Right had been split between the Conservative candidate and the Republican candidate. More recent polling suggests that Hoffman might be enjoying a slight edge - a slight surge. Time will tell.

But I think it‘s safe to say that if Hoffman does win this, the Tea Party crowd, the far Right base will be emboldened to carry on the same kind of tactics in other races across the country over the next couple of cycles. So it‘s one of the things that people are watching very closely in this race.

MADDOW: The great purge of 2009. It is fun spectating. Steve Benen, contributing writer for WashingtonMonthly.com, also author of all of the books you see behind him in that - in that shot. Steve, thanks for being here.

BENEN: Thanks very much. Take care.

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