So what happens when a moderate Republican (Dede Scozzafava) gets bushwhacked from the far right in her quest to win a seat in congress, in what would normally be in a district where the prospects were pretty good she'd win? First, her finances dry up; right-wing Club for Growth starts running ads for her Conservative opponent while she can't run any due to lack of money; she gets attacked by Dick Armey (albeit Newt Gingrich tried to come to her rescue); The Weekly Standard starts running snide things about her campaign so her campaign manager flips out and calls the cops on him.
And then this.
In what can only be described, charitably, as a severe lapse in judgment or common sense, a protest news conference staged in front of her Conservative opponent's headquarters goes awry. And the resulting optics were less than stellar. Scozzafava's pained expression probably came at the exact moment she realized she would be seen standing in front of a wall of signs for her opponent on the local evening news.
Somewhere Democrat Bill Owens and his campaign are chuckling at the continuing travails of the Republicans in upstate New York, and perhaps even the oncoming civil war within the national Republican party itself.
Rachel Maddow weighed in on the race on her show last night.
Maddow: Common political wisdom is that the first round of elections in the new president‘s first year are a referendum on that president. This year‘s bellwether looks a lot more like a referendum on the state of the Republican Party. And at this point, Democrats rejoice. It‘s a cage match.
Transcript below the fold.
MADDOW: Yes, it‘s that time of year, again. We are now precisely two weeks away from election 2009, when voters across specific parts of the country will take to the polls to vote in some local and statewide elections. And some of these elections have gained national attention, like the very highly-anticipated governor‘s races in New Jersey and Virginia.
For the country as a whole, these races are important to the extent that they are bellwethers, real world indicators of what‘s going on in American politics. And if today‘s crazy news about one of these bellwether races is anything to go by, what‘s going on here right now on American politics is absolute chaos on one side of the political spectrum.
The race in question is to replace the Upstate New York Republican Congressman John McHugh. John McHugh needs to be replaced because he‘s been appointed by President Obama to be the new secretary of the army. Mr. McHugh‘s district is described by the local papers there as one of the most reliably Republican seats in the nation. Parts of the district haven‘t been represented by a Democrat since the before the Civil War when Democrat Francis Spinner was elected back in 1854.
This year, this New York district which hasn‘t elected a Democrat since the Civil War era looks awfully close to electing a Democrat in 2009, in large part because of a bare-knuckled, hair-pulling, knockdown drag out intra-party fight that has broken out over this race on the political right.
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed the Republican candidate in this race, the conservative Club for Growth went after Gingrich with both barrels. The head of the Club for Growth publicly snarking about Mr. Gingrich, quote, “Gingrich does this all the time. He likes to cultivate this image of being an innovator and a thinker and so on.”
When the conservative magazine, “The Weekly Standard,” sent a reporter to question the Republican candidate in the race, the candidate called the police to question the reporter, prompting “Weekly Standard” editor Bill Kristol to put out a snarky statement of his own, calling the Republican, quote, “desperate.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee and the House Republican leadership, like John Boehner and Eric Cantor, have come out in favor of the Republican candidate. The Republican Party has spent more than $300,000 in this race on her behalf. That caused Republican columnist Michelle Malkin to tell her readers, quote, “If you have given to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee, or Newt Gingrich, under the impression that they are using the money to support conservatism, you might want to ask for your money back.”
Even as the Republican Party and usual suspects, like the National Rifle Association, support the Republican running to replace a Republican congressman in this Republican district, the conservative movement is bolting. They are instead supporting a candidate who‘s running on the conservative party ticket. He‘s even got tea party support in the form of an endorsement from former lobbyist Dick Armey.
And the split isn‘t just between elected Republicans and the conservative movement. Even as the House Republican leadership endorses and funds the Republican candidate in this race, other ambitious elected House Republicans, people like Mike Pence, who appears to want to run for president and Tom Price of Georgia, they have refused to back the Republican candidate.
This is all regardless of the Democrat in the race. Essentially, the right has fractured over this one race. They are not only disagreeing about whether to choose the Republican Party candidate or the conservative party candidate, they are denouncing one another in the process, pledging the death of one another‘s political careers over this split.
Now, the local impact of this chaos on the right, the ultimate affect for the New York‘s 23rd district may very well be that the 23rd district of New York elects its first Democrat since around the time of the Civil War. With Republicans split over the two candidates on the right, the Democrat in the race is now ahead in recent polling.
Common political wisdom is that the first round of elections in the new president‘s first year are a referendum on that president. This year‘s bellwether looks a lot more like a referendum on the state of the Republican Party. And at this point, Democrats rejoice. It‘s a cage match.