Archive for the 'NY-23' Category

Can Debra Medina top Kay Bailey Hutchison?

The showdown between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was supposed to be one of the cycle’s defining primaries. Yet, not only has the race been tame by the standards of what is to be expected when two towering politicians who personally dislike each other go head-to-head, but Hutchison now finds herself in danger of being knocked out of the runoff by Debra Medina, a conservative close to the Tea Party movement.

PPP’s new survey of the race shows Perry at 39%, Hutchison at 28% and Medina at 24%; among self-described conservative voters, who represent more than 70% of the cycle, Hutchison comes in third. While no other pollster has found a similar result, Rasmussen’s latest survey (released 10 days ago) did find Medina enjoying with the most momentum: the 14% she received in that poll was her highest result to date.

(A reminder: The primary will take place on March 2nd, which is in just 3 weeks. The two top vote-getters will move on to an April 13th runoff.)

Who is this woman who is now going toe-to-toe with a sitting Senator? Medina served as the Republican Party’s county chairman Wharton County, a small county in Southeastern Texas. A major participant in the Tea Party protests, she is also a libertarian activist who helped organize Texas’s Campaign for Liberty, an organization of Ron Paul supporters launched back in 2008.  We all know Paul supporters tend to be very engaged, which allowed the congressman to get surprisingly strong results in a number of presidential contests two years ago; Rand Paul’s success in Kentucky’s GOP primary also testifies to Paulites’ success at promoting their members of their camp - and they seem to have done the same to Medina over the past few weeks.

In 2008, ultra-conservative (and secessionist) Larry Kilgore challenged John Cornyn’s hold on the GOP’s Senate nomination; he received 19%. Medina is running a higher profile campaign, which suggests she could build on that base of support for an anti-establishment contender and thus grow enough to make it to the runoff.

But here is the twist: Logic would dictate that Medina would grow at Perry’s expense. The governor has been trying to channel conservative voters’ anger towards the anti-federal government, most notably last year when he suggested Texas might secede. While Hutchison has been touting her own conservatism, she represents a comparatively mainstream Republicanism that makes for an uneasy fit with Medina and Perry’s rhetoric.

What does it say about the GOP electorate’s ideological profile that Hutchison (who can hardly be called a centrist) has been so marginalized that the primary has room for two more conservative options? What to make of the fact the hard right’s split is threatening to relegate Hutchison to third place rather than giving her an opening? Does this reflect voters’ disdain about Hutchison’s relative moderation or does it speak to conservative anger towards all federal officials, however conservative their voting record might be?

I should nuance that point: Perry is himself an incumbent who has attracted plenty of criticism from all sides, and his best effort to portray himself as an outspoken conservative don’t make him any less of an establishment figure. In fact, he is the longest serving governor in the country, which leads to the obvious question as to whether we should have expected him to easily win over Tea Partiers’ support in the first place. In the context of a two-way race with Hutchison, conservative activists are obviously likely to side with the governor, but perhaps we should not be surprised that the same people who are blasting Hutchison’s support for the 2008 bailout plan are also looking for an opportunity to bail on a fellow insider who has led the state for a decade.

Who Republicans nominate will obviously impact how much of a chance Houston Mayor Bill White has of scoring an upset in the general election. Polls show Hutchison scoring larger margins against White, while Perry is under 50%. The latest Rasmussen poll had Medina with a slight lead over the Houston Mayor. Given her low name recognition, that speaks to how uphill a climb White will face against any Republican, but it does look like his prospects depend on Hutchison losing the primary.

The sudden focus on Medina comes as two other GOP primaries are getting tougher along similar insider/outsider lines.

In Indiana, former Senator Dan Coats got a taste of the difficulties he might face in the Republican primary, as John Hostettler and Marlin Stutzman welcomed him to the race by blasting his connections to Washington. “If there’s one group people are more disenfranchised from than Washington politicians, it’s lobbyists,” Stutzman said. “Sen. Coats has probably been back to Indiana fewer times than Sen. Bayh has and has those questionable relationships. If you’re trying to contrast with Sen. Bayh, why would you go with Sen. Coats?” While Coats will be favored to win the GOP primary, such attacks could undermine his credibility along the very same lines Democrats plan to use in the general election, thus introducing a narrative Evan Bayh would later have an easier time working with.

In NY-23, Doug Hoffman might strike again: The man who drove Dede Scozzafava out of November’s special election declared he could mount a third-party bid once again if he loses the Republican nomination Assemblyman William Barclay. Indeed, Hoffman is simultaneously running to represent the Republican Party and Conservative Party lines on the November ballot; with Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long sounding certain Hoffman will represent them, the businessman is leaving the door open to taking advantage of that if he does not get the GOP’s.

That would be different from last year’s events in one major way: A major rationale of Hoffman’s candidacy was that Scozzafava had not been selected by the district’s Republican voters but rather by a committee of party leaders - an argument he will not be able to make if he loses to Barclay. From Democrats’ perspective, however, there is no difference: A Owens-Barclay-Hoffman general election would be a repeat of the scenario that played out last fall, a major boost to Rep. Bill Owens’s hopes of securing a full term.

The morning after

Election Day wasn’t kind to Democrats. By conquering the night’s two biggest prizes, Republicans broke the spell that kept them from winning nearly any competitive race since Election Night 2004.

Before we even ascribe any national meaning to these results, let’s make sure we state their primary consequence, for it is too often overlooked: Bob McDonnell’s triumph puts Virginia under complete Republican control for the next 4 years, while Chris Christie’s victory hands New Jersey’s executive branch to the GOP. If we forget why this might be important, we need not look any further than the current federal debates over the public option’s opt-in or opt-out mechanisms. This also strengthens VA Republicans hands in the next round of redistricting (NJ uses a bipartisan commission).

Yet, this is first and foremost a national blog, and the GOP’s victories have obvious resonance at the federal level. That Virginia’s gubernatorial race wasn’t considered competitive in the campaign’s final week shouldn’t obscure the fact that it was a far more telling test of the country’s political mood than New Jersey’s.

In the latter contest, the absolutely dominant factor was Corzine’s dismally low approval rating: It takes a series of unlikely miracles for an incumbent to win re-election when he has spent 10 months trailing massively. I spent most of the year insisting Corzine was toast. Only when Daggett jumped in the race did it become possible for the governor to prevail, since he no longer had to top 50%. Had Daggett received between 15% and 20%, a level he reached in mid-October polls, Corzine could have pulled an unlikely comeback. But at the end of the day, undecided voters and Daggett’s supporters decided that their desire to oust Corzine was stronger than their reluctance to vote for a Republican.

In that sense, yes, Christie’s victory reveals that there is a point at which New Jersey’s notoriously Democratic-leaning independents resign themselves to pulling the GOP lever.

The day Obama’s approval rating dips under 40%, he can worry about that - but by then, he’ll have enough problems that Corzine’s defeat won’t look like a very useful harbinger. A more useful parallel is Democratic incumbents up for re-election in 2010 who are facing dreadful approval ratings - the first of which is Harry Reid, whose numbers are no better and who sits in a less Democratic seat. Here again, we did not need the 2009 cycle to teach us that highly unpopular incumbents are in grave danger.

Virginia, however, provides a clearer warning to Democrats. In 2008, it proved one of the most receptive to their ticket: Not only did Barack Obama and Mark Warner win statewide (completing Tom Kaine and Jim Webb’s streak) but their party picked-up 3 House seats - one of them the only surprise Democratic takeover of the night. One year later, state Republicans enjoyed a banner night: They swept the state’s 3 statewide offices by big margins, including a truly massive 59% to 41% triumph for McDonnell, while expanding their legislative majority by picking-up 7 to 8 seats in the House of Delegates.

Such a result goes beyond one’s candidate weakness - though there is a lot to say about the many failures of Creigh Deeds’s campaign; it’s an across-the-board rebuke to the party that has led the state for 8 years. And here, there is no incumbent whose low approval rating can be held responsible: The gubernatorial contest was an open seat race between two candidates who faced each other in one of the state’s tightest elections just four years ago.

It does not take profound analysis to figure out what happened to explain this abrupt halt to Democrats’ Virginia progress. The party’s base did not show up: They did not care about these elections, and they stayed at home. That McDonnell managed to win Fairfax County (!), the state’s Democratic heart, tells us all we need to know about just how wide the enthusiasm differential was.

Some of that is undoubtedly due to Deeds, whose campaign badly miscalculated - over and over again. In what most everyone had figured out would be a tough cycle to turn out the Democratic base, Deeds started by shunning the president, chose to focus on rural issues rather than Northern Virginia, ran ads bashing national Democrats’ environmental policies and absurdly said he might opt out the state of a public option two weeks from Election Day. His strategy to get out the base entirely rested on attacking his opponent’s stance on social issues by harping on the master’s thesis rather than by giving the base any reason to be excited about Deeds himself.

But the motivational challenge preceded Deeds. He failed to remedy it - in fact, he probably made it worse - but he is not responsible for it. In New Jersey, Corzine also failed to get sufficiently high turnout from Democratic strongholds like Essex County and Hudson County. In both states, minority voters and young voters were MIA yesterday: Only 10% of Virginia’s electorate was made up of people between 18-29 yesterday, compared to 21% in 2008!

This is Democrats’ main challenge heading into 2010. Recreating the Obama coalition is most probably impossible in a non-presidential race, but that’s not even what we’re even talking about. If turnout levels among the Democratic base are anywhere near what they were in Virginia yesterday, the GOP will be in for a big night in 2010.

This is why I fail to see how yesterday’s results would justify conservative Democrats insisting that the party needs to move to the center.

For one, Virginia voters approved of Obama’s performance. Second, Deeds was too far to the right to build a winning electoral coalition as a Democrat. 2010 will not feature a presidential race, so it will be up to gubernatorial and Senate candidates to motivate voters. At the very least, Democrats should be able to speak the language of their base - something which will require them to point to recognizable accomplishments. Some conservative Democrats might think their re-election prospects will be hurt if health care reform passes, but it’s hard to see Blanche Lincoln or Tom Perriello winning re-election if they help block a bill.

More base neglect: National Democrats ignore Maine and NYC

While the White House will have to endure a few days of negative coverage due to yesterday’s gubernatorial results, the biggest hit to Obama’s legacy came in two races that progressives could have prevailed had the president taken an even minimal step - local activists were looking for any gesture - towards helping gay marriage in Maine and Bill Thompson in New York City.

Combined with the Democratic establishment’s utter failure to provide Thompson any help whatsoever, this is a further piece of evidence that there’s a disconnect between party officials and base voters - a disconnect that could have dire consequences in 2010.

In Maine, we knew that the same-sex marriage vote would be tight - though, just as in California, gay rights activists were optimistic they could finally score a victory at the ballot box, which makes yesterday’s loss a particularly stinging setback. Unlike its defense for its inaction on DADT or for its judicial defense on DOMA, the White House cannot say that it’s prioritizing other issues right now and will get to gay rights eventually. The moment is past, and it cannot be walked back.

What’s particularly striking about Maine’s vote is that it came on a night that was unusually kind to gay rights. Chapel Hill elected a rare openly gay mayor - a first in North Carolina; in Houston, an openly lesbian woman came out on top of the mayoral race’s first round; in Kalamazoo, MI, voters banned discrimination based on sexual orientation; and in Washington State, RI-71, which expands domestic partnerships, is passing 51% to 49% with half of the vote counted and King County underreporting. If RI-71 passes, it would be one of the first statewide wins for gay right activists.

In NYC, it is true that polls were finding Bloomberg leading by wide margins - nothing resembling his shockingly narrow 5% victory. (I am ashamed to even treat that farce as a legitimate election, considering that Bloomberg spent between $180 and $252 of his own money per vote; that is all the more grotesque considering Bloomberg knew Thompson had nothing resembling that kind of money.) And yet, there were clear warning signs: Back in September, I argued that the unexpected ouster of councilmen who’d voted to overturn the term-limit laws suggests there’s an anger among the New York electorate that could pose a major problem for Bloomberg.

Yesterday’s results proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a severe backlash was indeed brewing. How New York’s Democratic officials (few of whom did anything to help Thompson, starting with City Council President Christine Quinn, who played a prominent role in helping Bloomberg this year) fail to pick-up tremors of that on the ground when it had been brewing for months is beyond.

While this contest was supposed to be uneventful, Democrats are now left wondering what might have been: What if the media had treated the race a bit more competitively? What if Democratic officials like Quinn had done anything to unseat Bloomberg? What if Obama had done more than have Gibbs give the most pathetic and tepid of endorsements, one that didn’t even mention Thompson by name? What if donors had given a bit more money, just enough to ensure he would not be outspent by a margin hovering around 15:1?

I keep hearing variations of “If only Anthony Weiner had ran” today. In fact, that’s become the White House’s defense: “Maybe Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg,” an aide told Politico today. Thompson came within 5% with little money and little help; why would have been better? Thompson isn’t some sort of clown: He’s the city comptroller, and a former member of the Board of Education. Why did the Democratic establishment not take Thompson seriously? I do think that’s a question the party needs to ask itself.

NY-23 ensures the GOP cannot point to 2009 as a sign of rebirth

Republicans were hoping to use yesterday’s votes to prove they were heading towards big gains in 2010. They’ve been insisting for months that they’ll pick-up a large number of seats next year (some are saying north of 30 House seats), and they’ve been so confident that all they need to do is field candidates to have Democratic incumbents fall that the NRCC has been remarkably successful at recruiting contenders against entrenched incumbents.

Had New Jersey and Virginia been the only high-profile races on the ballots yesterday, the GOP would have succeeded in making their confidence conventional wisdom - despite all the caveats to a national reading I listed above. But the special election in NY-23 ruined their plans: Democrats picked-up a House seat in a region they had not represented in 150 years.

While that election came with its own set of bizarre circumstances that make it tough to use as a harbinger of 2010 races, it makes it much harder for Republicans to claim a red tsunami is coming if they just lost a House district they should have been able to keep - especially when it comes in the heels of an unlikely Democratic save in NY-20 back in March. The fact that NY-23 had reverted back to being a two-way race in the final days of the campaign make it harder for the GOP to argue they only lost because they were divided: Owens got 49% of the vote, that’s more than Al Gore or John Kerry received in the district.

At the end of the night, Republicans might have seized two governorships, but Nancy Pelosi got two new congressmen, since John Garamendi was easily elected in the special election in CA-10. At a practical level, that provides her two additional votes on matters like the public option, which both Owens and Garamendi support. At the level of the chamber’s control, yesterday’s results solidify Democrats’ majority: They’ll now need to pick-up 41 seats in 2010 to regain the House.

Of course, NY-23 was first and foremost a test for the GOP’s internal rift - and here, I am hard pressed to tell you what the results might mean considering most everyone in the Republican Party is likely to feel emboldened by the results.

For conservatives, the special election marked one of the first times they so clearly triumphed over the establishment; that Scozzafava was a centrist to quite an uncommon degree undoubtedly helped them, but the national movement’s willingness to get whole heartedly involved in an upstate New York contest certainly puts politicians like Charlie Crist on notice.

On the other hand, moderate Republicans and establishment types like Newt Gingrich will point to Hoffman’s final defeat as proof that the party will drive itself into a wall if it moves further to the right; while it’s very unfair to compare Marco Rubio to Hoffman, contenders like him will have to argue harder for their electability than if Hoffman had pulled it off last night.

For now, the mood of the GOP electorate should allow Sarah Palin and the Club for Growth to continue putting their mark on the party: John Cornyn just announced the NRSC would not spend any money on any contested Senate primaries, and given the pressure they’ll face he’ll probably have to hold himself to that promise. But neither side is likely to yield an inch and establishment contenders will surely be very well financed. As such, this intra-GOP rift, which will be one of the next year’s most fascinating dynamics. Will conservatives be successful at beating establishment-backed candidates? Will Hoffman’s example fuel third-party bids nationwide?

Election Night: McDonnell & Christie victorious, Dems pick-up NY-23 & keep CA-10, Maine rejects gay marriage

Recap: With very few states still counting votes, it’s time to attempt a little recap of the night’s results. The night’s first theme, which is sure to dictate coverage, was gubernatorial races: the GOP decisively picked-up two large states. one, defended another. A second theme was House races: Democrats picked-up one, defended another. On these ones, more extensive analysis will have to wait until tomorrow.

A third theme were down-ballot races: Democrats got a major victory in Charlotte, but they suffered important defeats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, in Stamford, in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, in Westchester County. While NYC wasn’t expected to be tight (I had repeatedly warned that we might see a repeat of September’s term-limit backlash), the small margin by which Bloomberg prevailed is bound to add the race to Democrats’ disappointment list, leaving Thompson’s camp wondering what might have been had Thompson been taken more seriously.

A final theme was gay rights. On the one hand, this has been as friendly a night for gay rights as any Election Night I can think of: Chapel Hill elected a openly gay mayor, an openly lesbian candidate came out on top in Houston’s mayoral race (the contest goes to a runoff), Kalamazoo, MI adopted a discrimination ban, and a referendum to ratify a domestic partnership law is ahead in Washington (it’s still too close to call). On the other hand, there’s Maine, where gay marriage suffered a fairly decisive defeat. This will fuel a lot of anger among the gay rights community towards the White House, which resisted pleas that the president get involved in even a minimal way. On this one, Obama can’t say he’ll get to it later, since the moment might well have already passed.

12:50am: AP calls the “yes” victorious in the Maine referendum, so Maine overturned a law legalizing gay marriage - a stinging loss for gay rights advocates.

12:35am: Republicans win a number of close mayoral races, starting with Stamford’s (previously held by a Democrat who was not running for re-election) and St. Petersburg’s. Also, a GOP candidate came out of nowhere to win the position of Westchester County Executive in the NYC suburbs. In Nassau County, potential statewide candidate Tom Suozzi is holding on by just 400 votes with 10 precincts left - a totally unexpected result.

Democrats did get some good down-ballot news from New Jersey, however: Republicans were hoping to post some meaningful gains in the state Assembly, but they were kept their pick-up was kept a minimal level (possibly as low as 1).

12:25am: California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi is elected to Congress: CA-10 is called in his favor. This was of course entirely expected, but given the bad news Democrats received elsewhere tonight, it’s surely good for them to be able to point to these two House special elections. If nothing else, Nancy Pelosi can count on two more congressmen in the coming debate on health care.

12:20am: This time, it’s official: Owens wins NY-23, Hoffman concedes and Democrats increase their House majority. It looked quasi-certain that he could hold on, but this will spare us having to spend days following absentee ballot counting and recount proceedings. Back in mid-October, I wrote that New York’s Republican infighting “is all the more tragic for Republicans because a Democratic victory in NY-23 would make it tough for the GOP to point to New Jersey and Virginia’s governorships (assuming they pick-up both) as a harbinger of a coming red wave.” And that’s exactly what happened.

12:05am: Now, Fox News is calling NY-23 for Owens. OpenLeft makes an excellent point about absentees in this district: Most were mailed in before Scozzafava withdrew, so that very seriously limits the margin Hoffman can hope to gain among absentees. Meanwhile, there’s been almost no new counting for 45 minutes in California and Washington. Remember that a lot of the voting takes place via mail in those states, so it could take days before we get anything approaching final results - even if the contests aren’t competitive.

midnight: CNN notes that Bloomberg spent $170 per vote. I’m speechless. That’s all the more grotesque since he knew just how under-financed Thompson would be.

11:55pm: McDonnell won Fairfax County! Could there be bigger evidence that Virginia’s Democratic base did not go to the polls at all; the same is true in New Jersey, but to a far lesser degree. I don’t see anything as shocking in New Jersey returns as McDonnell’s victory in Fairfax. As such, I hardly think the night’s results will be taken as a sign the public option has to be killed or health care reform has to be abandoned (if anything, House Democrats look like they’re going to gain two new members who are in favor of the public option), but just as further evidence that a bill better pass Congress if Democrats want to avoid big losses next year.

11:50pm: What Maine voters might take away, Washington voters might give: RI-71, which would create an extensive domestic partnership system, is currently ahead 52% to 48% with 43% reporting. Looks like that will be another nail biter though; the state’s other big initiatives, a fiscally conservative TABOR-style proposal, is going down by a more decisive margin.

11:40pm: It’s still looking tough for gay marriage in Maine, as the 12,000 vote margin is holding with 65% of precincts reporting (live results are available here). Something I failed to mention now: The anti-tax initiative went down to a big defeat.

11:35pm: Are we back to 2000? Races keep being uncalled, first Bloomberg’s and now Owens’s. NBC had called it for Owens, but is now also saying that the Democrat is leading. Here’s why that might be: 10,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted, which is far larger than Owens’s 2,600 victory (with 78% precincts reporting). In better news for Democrats, it looks like there won’t be any big surprise in CA-10: John Garamendi is ahead 56% to 40% with 22% reporting.

11:25pm: Gay marriage is not in the best of shapes in Maine: The “yes” has opened a 11,000 vote lead. (On the other hand, voters in Kalamazoo, MI voted to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation… and we’re now waiting for results out of Washington.)

11:22pm: NY-23 is being called for Bill Owens, so Democrats pick-up a House seat in NY-23. A huge upset both by the standards of the campaign’s beginning (Scozzafava was favored) and of the final days (it looked like Hoffman would benefit from Scozzafava’s withdrawal). While this is bound to relieve some Republicans who’re afraid of a proliferation of third-party bids, it’s also a huge relief for Democrats who will have something to spin: For all the Republican confidence that they’ll post big gains in 2010, they’ve lost two seats since the beginning of the year.

11:20pm: It looks like most of the remaining votes in NY-23 are from a Democratic county, so the race looks good for Owens (he leads by 4% with 74% reporting). In Maine, however, supporters of the ‘no’ are now mentioning the possibility of a recount, which is never a good sign when 46% of the precincts are still out (a 6,000 vote difference with 56% reporting).

11:15pm: The GOP has secured a majority on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, as the race was just called for Joan Orie Melvin. Not the highest-profile race, but an important one nonetheless. Combine this with other low profile results I have failed to mention - Michigan Republicans picked-up a state Senate seat in a special election - and there aren’t a lot of good news for Democrats tonight. Picking-up Charlotte’s mayorship can only get them so far.

11:10pm: Maybe I should stop looking at Maine for a while, since the lead is quite literally changing every time I press refresh. The “yes” now leading by 2,000 votes with 49% reporting. In NY-23, we are getting near the finish line (71% reporting), with Owens still ahead 49% to 45%. One election that is getting away from Democrats is the race for Pennsylvania Justice; after trailing big early, the Republican has been increasing her lead (85% are now reporting).

11:00pm: The polls have now also closed in CA-10, but eyes are more than ever turned on New York and Maine. The “no” and the “yes” are exchanging leads every time new votes are released. The “no” is currently leading by 2000 votes, with 41% of precincts reporting. In NY-23, there’s been little movement, with Owens ahead 49% to 46% (68% reporting). The county-by-county situation is getting a bit more clearer, and it looks like Hoffman is underperforming in counties he needed to do well in.

10:55pm: Mike Bloomberg is once again called the winner in New York City. As you might have gathered from prior updates, I think this “election” was a disgrace and a farce. It looks like the final margin will settle around 4%.

10:50pm: For those who are interested in New Jersey even though it’s been called, an interesting tidbit: Corzine is ahead in Bergen County with 91% reporting, which could mean that Christie becomes the first Republican to win statewide without carrying the state’s most populous county. That goes to show that Corzine’s defeat is first and foremost due to insufficient turnout in his base counties (Essex and Hudson, for instance).

10:45pm: Votes are coming in quickly in NY-23: We are already at 63% reporting, and Owens is holding on to his 49% to 45% lead; with Scozzafava at 5%, it looks like her supporters did follow her endorsement after all. But it’s still way too early to say how this might end. As for Maine, the “yes” is now ahead by… 37 votes (37% reporting).

10:40pm: It looks like Bloomberg will win a third-term (he’s leading by 3% with 89% of precincts reporting). But Thompson got little media coverage, little Democratic involvement, less than token Obama support, no contributions - any of these factors had changed, and we might be talking about Mayor Bill Thompson right now. I can find no other reason to the fact that no one treated Thompson seriously than Bloomberg’s money.

10:35pm: Maine will be a roller coaster, and the “no” is back up - this time by a more decisive 4,000 votes. 32% are reporting, so there’s still a long way to go.

10:30: I haven’t been spending a lot of time covering NY-23, though that’s arguably now Democrats last chance to spin the night as a good one. With 39% reporting, Owens is holding on to his 50% to 45% lead - the margins have been remarkably consistent all night. There are some big variations per county in this district, but I haven’t come across a county-by-county breakdown for now.

10:25pm: With 28% reporting in Maine, the “yes” is now ahead; I am unable to figure out where votes are coming from, nor why the state is so much slower at counting votes. Let’s follow that up with bad for Democrats: Virginia Republicans are having a big night, as they’ve picked up 7 seats in the House of Delegates (with an 8th potentially coming) while Bloomberg is slightly pulling away in New York - to the extent that we call a 2% victory pulling away.

10:20pm: Christie’s lead is down to 4,7%, but now that Hudson and Mercer are nearly done reporting there’s aren’t that many more obvious places from which Corzine can get votes. So all eyes now on New York’s two races (whatever happens in NYC, it was silly to call it: goes to show how Bloomberg’s 120 millions convinced everyone there was nothing to see) and Maine, where we now have a dead heat: The ‘no’ leads by just 75 votes with 26% reporting.

10:10pm: New Jersey’s Governor’s race is called for Chris Christie by the AP. This was the night’s biggest prize, and it’s the one that will dominate headlines tomorrow. Corzine mounted a very strong comeback, but he was counting on Chris Daggett siphoning votes away from Christie. That did not happen, as Daggett’s voters chose to go to Christie in the final hours. With 74% reporting, Christie is up 49,7% to 44%.

10:05pm: Owens is leading by 7% with 15% in. Wherever these voters are coming from, we already have an answer to one of our questions: Very few voters chose to stick with Scozzafava, since she’s only getting 5%. Might they have listened to her plea that they vote for Owens? Two races in which progressives’ margin is declining: The ‘NO’ is now leading by only 2% in Maine (though counting is still surprisingly slow), while Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court race is now a dead heat.

10:02pm: The New York City mayoral race is uncalled! As I noted two minutes ago, the race was tied with a third of the vote… this is fairly incredible. Might the Working Families Party and the anti-term limit repeal backlash actually cause a truly humongous upset? If Bloomberg wins narrowly, his massive overspending will look all the worse.

10pm: Burlington County went for Obama by 20%, but Christie is winning by 6% with 30% reporting… Obviously not the kind of result Democrats are hoping for right now. On the other hand, something strange might be happening in New York City? With 34% reporting, Bloomberg is only up by 1,500 votes (that’s 0,4%). I imagine outlets based themselves on exit polls, but 34% is quite a substantial share of the vote.

9:55pm: Anthony Foxx will be Charlotte’s next Mayor, the first African-American to lead the city in 22 years and the first Democrat in 16 years. This is Democrats’ first big win of the night, and while it’s clearly not on the same level as New Jersey’s governorship, it’s an important position to hold in North Carolina politics.

9:52pm: Corzine closes gap to 6%, but turnout looks to have been lower than he was hoping in places Northern Jersey counties like Essex and Hudson. But all is not lost for Democrats, since Bill Owen is leading by 11% with a non-negligeable 8% of precincts reporting. Also, one state in which Democrats appear to have had a good night is New Hampshire, though I don’t have much detail about that.

9:50pm: Maine is counting far slower than other states, and is still at 17% reporting: The “no” is holding on 52% to 48%, though the state capitol (Augusta) voted to overturn the law.

9:45pm: As a commenter very rightly pointed out, the numbers that were being reported out of Sussex County were wrong. They’ve now been reversed in Christie’s favor, which helps him increase his lead: It’s 7% all over again, with 58% reporting. Also: Bergen County has just massively reported (79%), and Christie is ahead in that key county (49% to 48%). In recent history, a Republican has never won statewide without winning Bergen.

9:42pm: Bloomberg bought himself won a third-term. No miracle for Bill Thompson, who never managed to get himself in the race. As for NY-23, I haven’t forgotten about it; it’s just that results are very slow (still 1% reporting).

9:40pm: We now have more than 53% of New Jersey reporting, and Corzine is up at 44,7%. He’s got to be disappointed at the small margin he’s getting out of Camden County, however. The fact of the matter is that some of Corzine’s strongest counties (Hudson, Essex) are also reporting faster than the statewide average, albeit less than Monmouth and Ocean. Also: Three counties have yet to report anything. One is small and the two others (Mercer and Burlington) gave Obama big victories.

9:30pm: Let’s take a look at non-NJ and non-ME races: Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has won a fifth-term, Foxx is still ahead by 3,000 votes in Charlotte with 12% remaining, the Democrat is leading Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court race by 10% (with 30% remaining) and the GOP has scored its second pick-up in Virginia’s House of Delegates, though Democrats are holding on to some vulnerable seats as well.

9:25pm: We now have 44% of New Jersey reporting, and the margin has tightened: 49% to 44%. It’s in great part due to Sussex County starting and finishing its counting, and going to Corzine 64% to 26%. But it’s also now Ocean’s turn to reach 91% reporting: Christie’s entire lead right now is based on the margins he build up in Ocean and Monmouth, which is to say Corzine has room to close the gap with places like Essex. That greatly depends on turnout, which isn’t something we can judge just yet.

9:20pm: Foxx is now up by 2,000, which could end up being significant if Charlotte’s the highest-profile victory for Democrats… Another good news for progressives: The “no” is increasing its lead in Maine, 53% to 47%.

9:15pm: Monmouth is now almost done counting (91%) and Ocean is getting there (73%). The rest of the state is at 29%. Corzine will have the rest of the night to close a gap that isn’t that wide (51% to 43%).

9:10pm: Charlotte’s mayoral race is a nail biter, with Democrat Foxx back on top by 120 votes (66% are reporting). Another tight race at the moment is developing in Maine, with the “no” leading 51% to 49% with 7% reporting; I’m unable to figure out where those voters are coming from. And another race that I forgot to mention earlier that is worth keeping an eye on is an race to be on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court; the contest will determine the Court’s majority, which is important for all sorts of reasons, some of them electoral (the Court plays in role in redistricting).

9:05pm: Daggett keeps going down, now at 5.5%. It will be quite remarkable if Corzine pulls it off with Daggett that low, though he’s closing the margin: We’re now at 49,6% to 44% with 28% reporting. Also: Deeds is winning Fairfax by a single percentage point right now. Talk about Democrats just not caring at all.

9:01: Polls have closed in NY-23!

9:00pm: The good news for Corzine: The GOP’s biggest counties are Monmouth & Ocean, and they’re reporting at 41% and 51%, respectively so that explains Christie’s big early lead. The bad news for Corzine: I’d read that Christie would need to clear 60% in those counties, and right now he’s at 66% and 62%, respectively.

8:55pm: Republican John Lassiter has taken a narrow lead in Charlotte’s mayoral race. As for New Jersey, GOP stronghold Ocean County is over-reporting for now, which explains part of Christie’s 52% to 42% lead with 14% reporting. In Maine, the “no” has taken back the lead with 5% reporting: 55% to 45%.

8:50pm: Small illustration of Deeds’s underperforming in the counties he should be running big margins in: Obama won Arlington 73% to 27%; Deeds, 66%-34%. In Portsmouth, 70%-30% while Deeds is 60% to 40%. In New Jersey, we are now at 12% reporting with Christie leading by 9% and Daggett down to 6%…

8:45pm: As of 8:45pm, Virginia’s Board of Election says McDonnell leading 85% to 15% with 66% reporting. I don’t think it was quite that bad for Deeds but… In New Jersey, Republican counties are reporting for now, which allows Christie to take a 55% to 38% lead with 4% reporting. In Maine, my sense is that progressives seem cautiously optimistic looking at early results.

8:40pm: We’re still waiting for count to heat up in New Jersey and Maine. The only thing we can say is that early indications that Daggett is falling short of his goal are still looking true, though he might hover somewhere around 8%; that would require Corzine to receive at least 46% of the vote to clinch victory. Based on all the polling evidence, it’s hard to see him rise that high - unless his ground operation was really stronger than Christie’s.

8:30pm: Very early results show the “no” and Christie leading, but we’re talking about very early numbers. In Virginia, Democrats are avoiding a catastrophe for now in House of Delegates races but it could still come.

8:25pm: No results yet in Maine, but an almost definitive results from Chapel Hill: Mark Kleinschmidt (the de facto Democrat in a nonpartisan race) is close to winning the mayorship, which would make him a rare openly gay official in North Carolina. In Virginia, McDonnell is still above 60% with 56% of the vote reporting; the margin should decrease once Fairfax reports, but this should be a blowout.

8:15pm: GOP sweeps Virginia: Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General races called for Bolling and Cuccinelli. Except to hear these names in 4 years, when McDonell can’t run for re-election (Cuccinelli has a particularly conservative profile). In New Jersey, exit polls haven’t budged: tight race, with Daggett weaker than polls had predicted (that makes a Corzine victory more difficult); I haven’t seen anything about Maine.

8:10pm: We’re already getting some chaos out of upstate New York (NY-20 repeat, here we come). The results could be delayed in some counties due to machine malfunctions. (Polls don’t close before 9pm in New York.)

8:00pm: Virginia got done just in time for New Jersey and Maine to come in focus. Polls just closed in both states.

7:55pm: Virginia’s gubernatorial race has been called for McDonnell (at least by ABC News). Given that he leads 62% to 37% with a third of the vote in, I don’t see any reason to disagree so the GOP has as was expected regained the governorship for the first time in 8 years, breaking a long streak of Democratic victories in the Old Dominion. The GOP has also scored its first pick-up in the House of Delegates. (Democrats are worried Deeds’s weakness will cost them many seats tonight.)

7:45pm: New Jersey exit poll has Christie leading by 25% among independents; that’s not insurmountable for Corzine, but it’d be very tough, especially since Daggett’s looks to be a non-factor even among this group. In Virginia, we’re now at 20% reporting and McDonnell is still leading 64% to 35%. Republicans are leading just as big in the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor race. It’s going to be a red sweep in Virginia.

7:35pm: With 12% of precincts reporting in Virginia, McDonnell is up 63% to 36%; most counties that are reporting are in conservative territory, but there’s nothing for now to indicate Deeds should have any hope. Another sign of the turnout gap between the two parties’ base: Exit polls project that just 15% of the electorate is African-American; in 2008, it was 20%.

7:20pm: The 18-29 group made up 21% of Virginia’s electorate in 2008; this year, they make up only 10%! Talk about a generational turnout gap. If this holds in Maine, gay marriage is toast. The good news for Democrats is that, if a majority of Virginia voters approve of Obama’s performance, it might mean the partisan turnout gap is not as huge as some polls had predicted. In other exit poll information, McDonnell is crushing Deeds among independents - 63% to 36%.

7:10pm: These are preliminary exit polls, so take them with huge grain of salt, but here it goes: We could be in for a long night in New Jersey, with Corzine and Daggett tied at 47% and Daggett well under even his lowest poll levels. In Virginia, McDonnell is ahead by 10% - a big margin which would be a relief for down-ballot Democrats. Once again, these numbers are preliminary exit polls, so they could be widely off, but that’s all we’ve got for now (well, that’s not true: with 2 precincts reporting, McDonnell leads 70% to 30%).

Original post: It’s 7pm ET, which means polls have closed in Virginia. Of course, the Old Dominion is hosting the least competitive of the day’s elections, so it will still take a while before we get any interesting information.

We do have some turnout tidbits. In NY-23, an early report suggests that voting is far heavier in conservative precincts than it is in Owens’s home base - good news for Republicans. In Maine, turnout is reportedly far heavier than expected - good news for gay marriage. Also, early exit polls find that Barack Obama’s approval rating is above 50% in both Virginia and New Jersey (51% and 57%, respectively); that will make it hard for commentators to blame Deeds and Corzine’s potential defeats on the president.

In NY-23, final hours bring a mad rush to turn out the base, appeal to Scozzafava voters

The polls are now open in states across the country, but nowhere is the situation more confused than in NY-23. Dede Scozzafava’s sudden withdrawal has sparked a mad rush to convince her voters - a difficult exercise considering the final days of a campaign are typically spent motivating the base, not reaching out to an entirely new group of voters.

Te bottom-line hasn’t changed since Saturday: The math remains tough for Bill Owens. Doug Hoffman is running as a Republican nominee freed of the party’s negative image - a rare position that’s allowing him to dominate the GOP electorate while running better among independents than his ideological profile would otherwise suggest. Had Democrats had one more week, they might have been able to paint their opponent as excessively conservative, but the race’s reconfiguration occurred too late for the spotlight to shift from Scozzafava to Hoffman.

The only two polls taken after Scozzafava’s withdrawal both found Hoffman ahead, but they do paint different pictures. For PPP, Hoffman is crushing Owens 51% to 34% thanks to the support of 72% of Republicans and 52% of independents; Owens gets 30% of independents. For Siena, Hoffman leads by a narrower 41% to 36%, with 6% still choosing Scozzafava and 18% undecided; Owens does lead among independents (43% to 37%).

But even that latter poll is problematic for Democrats since it confirms that Scozzafava’s exit has helped the conservative. While most of Scozzafava’s independent backers have gone for Owens, far more of her supporters were Republicans - and they’re not hesitating to go to Hoffman, who’s gone from 50% to 63% among Republicans. This is further confirmation that many of the voters who were still holding on to Scozzafava were not doing so because they were centrists but because they were loyal Republicans.

That said, the wide difference between PPP and Siena’s polls testify to the fact that the race remains in flux. Unions are now forming a uniform bloc around Owens, thousands of orphaned voters have yet to decide what to do and the DCCC keeps pouring in money to help its candidate.

Furthermore, any impact Scozzafava’s endorsement might have had was unlikely to have registered by the time the surveys were conducted. That she went as far as record robocalls for Owens increases the likelihood her endorsement might actually move some votes. This is particularly important in Scozzafava’s home base of Jefferson County (based around Watertown), which is a county Hoffman has to do well in since it is substantially more Republican than the district at-large: Combined with the Watertown Daily Times’s last-minute Owens endorsement, might Scozzafava be able to hurt Hoffman enough in Jefferson?

In short, it’s highly plausible that the mad chaos created by Scozzafava’s withdrawal and endorsement changed voters’ outlook on the race by making Hoffman look far more isolated than he had ever been - and thus rendering him unacceptable to many independents and Scozzafava supporters.

Polls taken in the events’ immediate aftermath can’t be expected to pick-up any such change of mood, just as last year’s New Hampshire polls had no hope of giving an accurate picture of the Democratic primary since most had been taken over the week-end, in the immediate aftermath of glowing coverage of Obama’s Iowa victory.

With all the uncertainty that’s still reigning, both parties are doing their best to get their supporters to the polls. Joe Biden held a rally with Owens yesterday; the vice president was just as eager to reprise rhetoric of the presidential campaign trail than Obama had been the day before in New Jersey. He in particular went on the offensive against Sarah Palin, who wasted no time before responding on her Facebook page: “There’s one way to tell Vice President Biden that we’re tired of folks in Washington distorting our message and hampering our nation’s progress: Hoffman, Baby, Hoffman!”

Meanwhile, in evidence that just about everybody is getting involved in NY-23 at this point, gay-rights group HRC is now blasting out emails and phone calls to its upstate members (they have a non-negligeable 850 residents of NY-23 on their list), urging them to back Owens. That just about sums up how far we’ve come in this race: At the beginning of the campaign, we were talking about how Owens was arguably furthest to the right on gay-rights issues, since he opposed gay marriage (which Scozzafava supported) and was undecided about a repeal of DADT (which Hoffman said he supported).

The national stakes: The GOP’s rift

It’s already been a few days since Hoffman’s triumph over Scozzafava was consummated, but there are already countless signs that this will lead to a new dynamic within the GOP. Over the week-end, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola warned that Charlie Crist could be the next Dede Scozzafava - an extraordinary declaration given that the Club has supposedly not yet decided whether the Florida Senate race is worth getting involved in. After the events in NY-23, can anyone imagine the Club not helping Marco Rubio at this point?

Chocola stopped short of criticizing Kelly Ayotte, but it is clear that many of the GOP’s front-running Senate contenders are in danger of facing emboldened primary opposition. Here’s what a commenter wrote on this website on Saturday, shortly after Scozzafava’s withdrawal: “Roy Blunt isn’t a Republican. He voted for the bailout and cash for clunkers.” Sarah Steelman might have made a mistake by choosing to pull the plug on her Senate run; 2010 is a more promising time for candidates like her than 2008 was.

Whatever happens tonight, Hoffman’s triumph over Scozzafava will not be forgotten so nothing can cause a dent in conservative enthusiasm. That said, the outcome remains important. If Hoffman loses, it would strengthen Club for Growth critics like Newt Gingrich, who have long been arguing that running movement candidates in districts like NY-23 is suiscidal; it would also allow establishment favorites like Crist to continue presenting themselves as more electable.

On the other hand, if Hoffman prevails, the GOP establishment can forget using electability arguments to convince the base to accept a candidate - and it can forget persuading conservatives that it’s good to run moderates in some districts. If Hoffman can win with no political experience and remarkably little knowledge of local issues, how can a former state Speaker like Rubio be convincingly described as a dangerous bet?

Democrats are hoping: Scozzafava endorses Owens, Obama campaigns for Corzine

Bill Owens got himself a powerful ally today: Dede Scozzafava, who just 48 hours ago was the GOP’s standard-bearer, endorsed the Democratic nominee.

To conservatives, that will prove that Scozzafava was as much as of a RINO as they claimed throughout the campaign, but to Democrats this is most welcome news: Since NY-23’s special election now comes down to which candidate can recuperate Scozzafava’s voters, that’s as good a development as Owens could have gotten out of the day.

I am perplexed by what Scozzafava is thinking. Her withdrawal made the math very tough for Bill Owens (voters who had remained faithful to her were more likely to be partisan Republicans than independents); even for those who argue more of her supporters will go the Democratic side, it seems hard to argue that Owens’s road to victory got any easier with Scozzafava’s decision to suspend her campaign. As such, why would Scozzafava abruptly drop out if she wanted to prevent Hoffman from winning?

That’s all the more the case because her endorsement has more unpredictable consequences than her withdrawal. Endorsements do not tend to move a substantial numbers of voters: Scozzafava does not control her supporters (her campaign manager has announced he’s going with Hoffman), many of whom were backing her out of party affiliation; and it’s not like there is enough time before Election Day for her to beat the trail on Owens’s behalf.

On the other hand, circumstances here are atypical. Thousands of voters who have suddenly been left candidate-less a few days from an election are looking for a sign as to where they should go. Because of how much the race is in flux, then, her endorsement could influence a far larger number than is common.

Furthermore, Scozzafava’s move could be influential because it inscribes itself directly in the Democrats’ goal in the closing hours: Make Hoffman look isolated. At the moment, Hoffman is looking strong among independents and among Republicans. Might that not change if voters see that the Democratic and Republican nominees (who are also running on the Working Families Party and Independent Party lines) have allied themselves against the Conservative Party nominee?

Democrats will do what they can for that, but they have to remember that Hoffman and the Club for Growth have long been running ads premised on the argument that Owens and Scozzafava are too similar: That Hoffman managed to dominate among independents suggests this claim resonated among nonpartisan voters, who might now be all the more attracted by Hoffman’s heightened outsider status.

Owens’s camp will at least get some help. The Watertown Daily Times, which had endorsed Scozzafava, wrote today in strong terms that it was backing Owens (Watertown is Scozzafava’s home base). Also, a number of union groups were supporting Scozzafava due to her labor-friendly record - and they are now committed to pushing Owens across the finish line, which should help him get out the vote.

Also helping Democratic GOTV: Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to NY-23 tomorrow to hold an event to Owens. That should dominate media coverage on the final day, ensuring the candidate gets a chance to remind voters of the high esteem in which he now holds Scozzafava. (There was some noise last week that Obama might record a robocall, but I have not heard any more about that.)

Take all of this to mean that the next 48 hours should be so chaotic to make any clear prediction impossible. PPP is hours away from releasing a survey with Doug Hoffman leading by double-digits, but the bottom-line is that the contest is so much flux that polling it seems as useless a exercise as polling New Hampshire in the 5-day window separating it from the Iowa caucuses. Hoffman’s dominant success among independents makes him the favorite, but we won’t know for sure how the dust of Scozzafava’s moves has settled until Tuesday night.

New Jersey, Democrats’ other hope of salvaging the 2009 cycle

While Biden is traveling to upstate New York, Obama was in New Jersey today, trying to pull Governor Jon Corzine across the finish line in what is the only one of Tuesday’s two gubernatorial races Democrats have a chance of winning.

In any election, the final week-end is all about motivating the base - and that’s all the more the case for Democrats this year, since they are facing the prospect of going down due to a substantial turnout gap. So for the president, the urgency was to frame the race in partisan terms so as to make sure Democratic voters actually go to the polls. “This crisis that we are getting ourselves out of came about of because of the same theories, the same lax regulation, the same trickle-down economics, that the other guy’s party has been peddling for years,” he said.

Christie is looking to fire up his own base since he got… South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson to campaign with him. What better confirmation that Wilson acquired a national following ever since he screamed “you lie!” at Obama? He is now so well known among conservatives that he is invited to travel hundreds of miles away - a development that’s particularly fascinating considering Christie kept Sarah Palin at arm’s length.

After two months during which Corzine steadily gained, the past few weeks have shown a trend that is worrisome for the Democrat: Chris Daggett’s support is declining. The independent reached 19%-20% in mid-October polls, but he is now more often than not in single-digits: The last three polls have him at 8%. Since Corzine is still having trouble breaking out of the 40-42% range, that makes it more difficult to envision him winning re-election. And don’t forget undecideds don’t tend to break for incumbents.

Most of the latest polls all have the race within the MoE. Christie is up 43% to 42% in Monmouth (the previous survey had a tie), Rasmussen finds the Republican up 46% to 43%, YouGov finds Corzine with a 43% to 41% edge; Research 2000 finds Daggett holding on at 14%, with Christie up 42% to 41%. Two polls with larger margins find opposite results - and they both come from partisan pollsters: Democracy Corps has Corzine leading 43% to 38%, and while I had mentioned that poll before it was conducted at the same time as a Neighborhood Research poll, which finds Christie up 42% to 35%.

New Jersey is as difficult to predict as NY-23, but for different reasons. While the latter race is in chaotic flux, the former has looked pretty stable for a while; but the candidates are so close that the determinant factor will be turnout - and that’s something we won’t know for sure until Tuesday night.

What an end: Conservatives triumph as Scozzafava withdraws

Once the heavy favorite to win NY-23’s special election, Dede Scozzafava will not be the district’s next representative. Plagued by the collapse of her poll numbers, by a lack of funds and by her inability to respond to hard-hitting ads attacking her, the Republican nominee took the stunning move of suspending her campaigns just 3 days before Election Day!

For weeks, conservative activists insisted they would not mind if Owens won; as long as they managed to prevent Scozzafava from winning, they would have succeeded in sending a message to the GOP establishment. As such, they got just what they wanted: No matter what happens on Tuesday, Scozzafava’s demise will be remembered as an unlikely conservative triumph, embolden the hard-right and put establishment-backed candidates - from Charlie Crist to Kelly Ayotte - on notice.

But in her last act as a candidate, Scozzafava chose to help her tormentors score an outright victory. In a two-way race, it’s tough to see Bill Owens’s path for victory  - and this for a very simple reason: Most voters who had remained faithful to Scozzafava were Republicans rather than independents. The latest Research 2000 and Siena polls (both of which have Hoffman trailing Owens by just 1%) show 34% and 29% of Republicans opting for Scozzafava compared to only 11% and 15% of independents.

As such, when wondering where Scozzafava’s voters will go, we are talking first and foremost about Republican voters, a group that gave Barack Obama a 25% approval rating in the Research 2000 poll. Those voters are more likely to move to Hoffman’s camp than to cross over to the Democratic Party.

Democrats are left hoping that Scozzafava’s voters will be repulsed by Hoffman’s conservatism and run to Owens; but that hope is hard to reconcile with the simple fact that Hoffman has been dominating both of his rivals among independents - i.e. a group of moderate voters that gave Barack Obama a positive approval rating in the Research 2000 poll. (Hoffman received 47% in Research 2000 and 40% in Siena.)

Scozzafava’s might be ideologically to Hoffman’s left, but that was not reflected in their respective electoral coalitions. That means we cannot treat the former’s voters are centrists who will split equally between the two remaining contenders. Now that he is both a third-party candidate and de facto GOP nominee, Hoffman should win a large majority of Republican voters while also strengthening his hold among independents.

Owens’s saving grace could be the fact that Scozzafava’s name will still appear on the ballot. Given how late she announced her decision, that many voters have seen her ads and received her mailers, I would be surprised if she receives less than 10% of the vote. Since she will appear as the GOP nominee, I would expect many of those who stick by her to be Republican voters, which could be a major obstacle for Hoffman.

Whatever happens on Tuesday, conservatives will be embolden

Does that mean Republicans should rejoice? Since Scozzafava’s withdrawal, most of the GOP establishment - including the RNC and NRCC - have jumped on the Hoffman bandwagon while those who were on it from the start, like Sarah Palin, are celebrating their victory. Newt Gingrich is a rare holdout refusing to walk back his endorsement for Scozzafava. He told the New York Times:

This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this: If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make Pelosi speaker for life and guarantee Obama’s re-election… I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.

Gingrich’s characterization of the dispute is somewhat flawed. What conservatives have been upset about in many races  is the lack of local choice: They blame national Republican leaders for anointing establishment candidates - not all of them moderates, for instance Charlie Crist, Kelly Ayotte, Jane Norton, Roy Blunt and Carly Fiorina. (Among major Senate candidates, only Rob Portman looks to have mostly escaped base discontentment.)

But Gingrich’s overall point remains a valid one, and you can be sure many Republicans are thinking the same thing. With a blueprint for victory, conservatives will be emboldened in their quest to beat back the candidates favored by establishment; the Club for Growth will point to NY-23 as its highest-profile triumph; and it will be much harder to accuse these forces of playing spoiler when Hoffman so dramatically vanquished Scozzafava.

This should first and foremost be a problem for the GOP insofar as primaries go: It’s hard to see how Sean Mahoney mounting as strong a Senate campaign as Kelly Ayotte. But the “extremists are taking over the party!” argument shouldn’t be taken too far:  There were many dire warnings about Democrats setting themselves up to lose independents when Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman in the summer of 2006, and we know what happened just 3 months later.

What is so different in NY-23 is that conservatives explicitly said they couldn’t care less if the GOP lost - a major difference with Connecticut, where liberals were trying to win within the Democratic Party. While Lieberman ran as an independent to save his personal career, here conservatives formed a third-party bid to advance their ideological cause at the obvious risk of hurting the party to which they’re often affiliated.

While third-party candidates are rarely a factor, part of the reason is that so few attract media and donor attention. The post-Hoffman landscape could be very different, and at the moment we cannot rule out a movement to get conservative candidates to bypass the GOP’s nominating process all around the country.

Needless to say, the proliferation of 3-way races - Democrat, Republican, conservative - would be a nightmare for the GOP.

(Sure, NY-23’s intraparty fight might not help Democrats, but this special election’s occurred in special circumstances that will rarely be duplicated. First, it took place in an electoral vacuum, which means it monopolized conservative attention. Second, Scozzafava’s record was uncommonly easy to characterize as liberal; how many Republicans have cast a vote to legalize gay marriage? And third, her decision to withdraw is one few trailing candidates take.)

While the race is still competitive, the NRCC is now more likely than not to keep NY-23 - but you can bet some Republican officials would have rather lost the seat than defend it through such a nightmarish sequence, one that will leave a durable mark on the GOP.

For the first time, a public poll shows Scozzafava in 3rd place

I’ve spent the past two days wondering whether conservatives are bluffing in acting like Dede Scozzafava had become irrelevant: are they genuinely convinced that Bill Owens is their only worthy opponent or are they trying to convince the media of that?

We didn’t have to wait that long to get a response: Earlier today, we learned about the very first poll to find the Republican nominee falling in third position - and not just by a small margin: Research 2000 has Scozzafava at 21%, trailing both of her rivals by double-digits! Just as shocking is that Hoffman is now almost tied with Owens: the Democratic nominee gets 33%, the Conservative Party nominee 32%.

That’s quite a turnaround from the Research 2000 poll released last week: Owens was at 35%, Scozzafava at 30% and Hoffman at 23%. The poll’s internal give a clear picture of what’s happening: While Scozzafava was still ahead among Republicans last week (46% to 27% for Hoffman), the conservative now leads 41% to 36%. And it will be hard for Scozzafava to recover: Under a deluge of attack ads, the once popular Assemblywoman’s favorability rating is now very negative (32-46) - including among Republicans.

Hoffman, meanwhile, has positioned himself ideally: He is using his conservative message to become the de facto Republican while also riding his third-party status to dominate the independent vote (he gets 47%, to 28% for Owens and 11% for Scozzafava). The DCCC now has to hope it can fire ads quickly enough to lower Hoffman’s popularity among both groups - and consider that he has a higher favorability rating among independents (53/14) than among Republicans (48/16)!

Now that NY-23 has become a showdown between Owens and Hoffman, the time has come to wonder who of those two will be more damaged by Scozzafava’s presence on the ballot! For now, the answer still seems to be Hoffman since Owens has a far stronger hold on the Democratic vote; whether the conservative can win next week will thus partly be determined by whether he can make Scozzafava a bigger burden for Owens.

That is confirmation to me that yesterday’s Common Sense in America ad is a dirty trick first and foremost aimed at the Democratic candidate - and not at Scozzafava, as most analyses are suggesting. What conservatives now need is for Owens to lose support, but that won’t be easy to do: That he’s only gathering a third of the vote means that a huge share of his supporters are partisan voters who would go for the Democratic nominee no matter what. The best way to damage him would thus be to convince some of his liberal supporters to vote for Scozzafava - and that’s where an ad that seems to praise her progressive credentials and tie her to Barack Obama comes into play.

But then why is Doug Hoffman’s campaign airing an ad tying Owens to Nancy Pelosi? “Nancy Pelosi hand-picked Bill Owens for Congress and bankrolls his campaign. You know what that means,” warns the ad. “So when Pelosi wants Owens’ vote for her massive energy taxes, government-run medicine and a trillion dollar deficit, where would Bill Owens stand: With you or with her?”

Such attacks might be useful to prevent Hoffman from reaching 50% - but they will do nothing to keep him under the 35%-38% range, quite the contrary: They will only solidify Owens’ identification as the Democratic nominee and ensure that many voters who approve of Barack Obama’s action vote for Owens rather than get confused about which of the 3 candidates best represents them. That’s all the better for Owens considering we’re talking about a district that voted for Obama by 5%. Research 2000 finds Obama’s approval rating in NY-23 is solid: 50% to 42%.

The good news for Owens is that he can spend more of his time appealing to independent voters if Hoffman takes care of instructing Democratic voters that Owens is their guy. Don’t forget that at the beginning of this race it was absolutely not obvious that Owens would be a factor or whether Democratic-leaning voters would join Scozzafava’s camp because she had emerged as Hoffman’s main liberal alternative.

That threat failed to materialize, Owens solidified his position as liberals’ champion and that allows him to dream on. Had he fallen in third position, the DCCC would not have lifted a finger to help him at this late juncture. But now that national Democrats know they have a clear shot at victory, it is no longer foolish of them to get involved: Obama held a fundraiser for Owens last week, and Democratic officials are telling Politicker that the party is “going all in.” That will include some heavy last-minute spending and perhaps even a robo-call recorded by Obama.

A final note: Scozzafava still has enough support that it wouldn’t be shocking for her to storm back - at the very least to climb back enough to endanger Hoffman’s momentum: The Watertown Daily Town just endorsed her, which could at least help her retain strong support in her home county.

Also for the first time, Corzine reaches 47%

With only 5 days to go, the two gubernatorial races are more stable than NY-23’s roller-coaster - though the trendlines we have been observing are getting sharper.In Virginia, a Roanoke College Poll is the latest to find Creigh Deeds plunging: He trails 53% to 36%. In New Jersey, Democratic Corps confirms Quinnipiac’s result from yesterday: Corzine is ahead by 5%, 42% to 37% if Daggett is included (he gets 12%) and 47% to 42% if he is not.

That two-way match might not reflect what we’re going to see next Tuesday, but the results are still fascinating.That 47% of respondents would as much as consider voting for Corzine is the best evidence we have yet gotten that something fundamental has changed in the electorate.

According to Pollster.com’s compilation of all New Jersey surveys, never before had Corzine gotten more than 44% - even in the 10-month of polling during which Daggett was not included since he wasn’t running yet. Democracy Corps has been friendlier to Corzine than other pollsters, but this is undoubtedly the trace of a significant shift in voters’ willingness to vote for the incumbent - a mark of Corzine’s ability to move the race away from a referendum on his record and turn the spotlight on Christie.

The stakes just keep rising in NY-23

It’s one thing for Republicans with presidential ambitions to get involved in NY-23’s special election. It’s also not that puzzling that Fred Thompson and Michelle Bachmann endorsed Hoffman: both do have a national audience. But what does it say about the contest’s unbelievably high stakes that a former Republican state legislator running for the House in Oklahoma took the time to endorse Hoffman’s candidacy, hundreds of miles away?

We thought the Perry-Hutchison and Crist-Rubio primary would be the medium through which Republicans would let all of their internal dissensions out in the open. (By the way, Dick Cheney endorsed Hutchison today.) Instead, NY-23 has become the stand-in for the party’s broader ideological battle - and this doesn’t feel like just a dress rehearsal for the Texas and Florida primaries: It’s the real deal.

For one, party figures are already deploying their entire argumentative arsenal. The election has now extended beyond the initial ‘establishment Republicans versus movement conservatives’ schema into a full-out war between contrasting views of how the GOP can get back on a winning foot. As such, former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (a conservative, but not particularly committed to sticking it to centrists) is now backing Hoffman.

We saw the other day that Sarah Palin used this opportunity to blast all forces who are committed to diluting the GOP’s identity. We didn’t have to wait for long for Newt Gingrich to offer a direct response:

I say to my many conservative friends who suddenly decided that whether they’re from Minnesota or Alaska or Texas, they know more than the upstate New York Republicans? I don’t think so. And I don’t think it’s a good precedent. And I think if this third party candidate takes away just enough votes to elect the Democrat, then we will have strengthened Nancy Pelosi by the divisiveness. We will not have strengthened the conservative movement…

This idea that we’re suddenly going to establish litmus tests, and all across the country, we’re going to purge the party of anybody who doesn’t agree with us 100 percent — that guarantees Obama’s reelection. That guarantees Pelosi is Speaker for life. I mean, I think that is a very destructive model for the Republican Party.

The similarity between Palin and Gingrich’s comments is that both are framing the Hoffman-Scozzafava confrontation in terms of a far broader battle over what the Republican Party should be - should it move to the center, to the right, embrace moderates, run after the conservative base? This sort of ideological and strategic disagreements grip all parties after a series of electoral defeats, we just didn’t expect them to reveal themselves in a House special election.

(By the way, Gingrich has really managed to come out of this saga looking the most moderate potential presidential candidate. Or is it the most faithful to the establishment? the most respective of state differences? the most realistic in terms of the party’s electoral challenges? While Gingrich can certainly argue for any of the latter 3 options, it does look like conservatives are going to stick to the former if the former Speaker attempts a national run in 2012.)

Second, Hoffman-Scozzafava could be far more important than any of 2010’s Republican primaries because it’s going to set a power dynamic within the party: If Hoffman wins the race, and even (albeit obviously to a lesser degree) if he loses but comes in in front of Scozzafava, it will embolden conservatives to take on non-movement Republicans next spring. If they’re accused of playing spoiler, they’ll point to NY-23 or simply disavow their allegiance to the GOP. That would be quite a nightmare for congressional Republicans.

In fact, it looks like this dynamic is already playing out: In Ohio’s 16th15th District, Republicans have been excited that state Senator Steve Stivers is seeking a rematch against Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy. But Ron Paul-supporter David Ryon just announced he was dropping out of the GOP primary in order to run in the general election as the Constitution Party nominee. Why? Because Stivers is pro-choice. “The lines between the two major parties have become blurred to the point they represent the left and right wings of the same party,” Ryon said.

Of course, third-party candidates are nothing new, and they rarely reach double-digits - let alone the level of support Hoffman is experiencing. But that’s exactly the point: Depending on how NY-23 turns out, conservatives could turn their attention to candidates like Ryon to try and turn them into the next Hoffman. Most such attempts are unlikely to be successful (the Club for Growth only has so much money); but if Palin goes around the country helping them, some of these races could get quite heated!

(”I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation,” said Palin on July 13th. We interpreted this statement as Palin opening the door to backing Democratic candidates, but the remark now appears under a new light: Meet Sara Palin, the supporter of conservative candidates who aren’t affiliated to the Republican Party!)

As if all of this wasn’t enough to heighten the tension, NY-23 is now home to bizarre electoral maneuvers. Yesterday, I was trying to figure out whether the Club for Growth and the DCCC sincerely think that Dede Scozzafava has fallen to a distant third or if they are merely bluffing in order to make the Republican nominee irrelevant in the campaign’s closing week. And today came a 30-second ad by a newly constituted group called Common Sense in America. It portrays Scozzafava the  “best choice for progressives:”

On Tuesday, progressives have one candidate to vote for with pride: Dede Scozzafava… Dede supports President Obama’s efforts to stimulate our economy. Dede supports organized labor’s drive to expand membership. And Dede is the only candidate for Congress who supports marriage equality. Dede Scozzafava: the best choice for progressives.

Politico dug a bit to find out more about Common Sense in America: The organization was created on October 23rd, and it is headed by a Club for Growth board member. Politico concludes that the ad is a “dirty trick” against Scozzafava because it pretends to be an endorsement for the candidate when it is fact trying to sink her prospects. I slightly disagree with that analysis. For one, I’m skeptical the ad is pretending to be an endorsement; it looks to be framed as a clear parody to me - and it’s not like the spot is lying in listing Scozzafava’s positions.

More importantly, I think the ad is a dirty trick against Owens rather than against Scozzafava: By making Scozzafava sound like the ideal progressive, Common Sense in America might be looking to confuse Democratic voters as to who they should vote for and who is the true Democratic/progressive in the race. Sure, it might be weird for Hoffman allies to try to boost Scozzafava but they’re going to have to take Owens down a notch if they’re aiming for victory rather than just for second place.

As I’ve noted many times before, it’s not like Owens has done much to court the liberal vote and I had mentioned the possibility that there might at some point be some competition between him and Scozzafava to be the truer alternative to Hoffman. But Owens has less to worry about now that he can count on strong union support. Yesterday alone, AFSCME dumped $200,000 in the race - a significant sum when combined to more than $200,000 the DCCC poured in.

Corzine’s and Owens’s momentum threatened by Daggett’s decline and Hoffman’s rise

For the past few weeks, the conventional wisdom has shifted in both New Jersey and NY-23: Democrats are now considered more likely than not to pull off come-from-behind victories. Yet, not only was that excessive expectation never quite in sync with the information we were getting from the ground, it is now all the more exaggerated due to yet another change in momentum: The two independent candidates, who for weeks looked like they would help Jon Corzine and Bill Owens clinch plurality victories, are now seeing their fortunes evolve in ways that complicates Democratic prospects.

With just 7 days to go, the situation in both races is entirely unpredictable - a stark contrast to Virginia, where it would be a gigantic stunner if Bill McDonnell were to lose. Just over the past 24 hours, 3 polls show McDonnell marching towards a landslide: 58% to 41% for SUSA, 55% to 44% for the Washington Post, 55% to 40% for PPP. Also, PPP finds that a shockingly low 31% of LVs are Democrats: The question isn’t whether Deeds loses, but whether he takes his party’s down-ballot candidates down with him!

New Jersey: Rise in Daggett’s unfavorable changes dynamics

Since early September, we have gotten used to seeing Jon Corzine progress from poll to poll. Once some surveys started showing him ahead for the first time of the year in mid-October, many people expected the governor’s lead to expand as it usually does in the final stretch for New Jersey Democrat. Yet, two new polls released today show a trendline favoring Christie. While the movement is slight, it does seem to mark a halt in Corzine’s momentum:

Rasmussen has Christie leading 46% to 43% while Daggett falls from 11% to 7%. PPP has Christie leading 42% to 38%, up from a 1% edge two weeks ago; while Daggett remains at 13%, PPP suggests he is now drawing more votes from the Democrat than the Republican. PPP’s most interesting finding: The independent’s unfavorability rating has risen sharply in just two weeks, from 24% to 36% - a dynamic that also explains why he might have fallen to single-digits in Rasmussen’s survey.

(A poll that was released yesterday found very different results: Suffolk, testing the race for the first time, had Corzine leading 42% to 33%. Since that’s unlike anything we have seen all year and it’s contradicted by surveys taken over the same period, I think it’s safe to file that away in the outlier column for now.)

There is an obvious explanation for the the change in Daggett’s ratings: Christie’s campaign recently started airing ads against him, which marked the first time of the campaign he faced any attacks. Voters’ impression of Daggett is so undefined that these negative ads will be a major part of what they’ve heard about the independent - and that spells trouble for Daggett, and by extension for Corzine: One week from Election Day, there is still no evidence whatsoever that Corzine can possibly rise high enough to clinch victory if Daggett doesn’t get more than 13-14%.

Has NY-23 become a Hoffman-Owens showdown?

For months, Democrats were excited that the division of GOP votes between Dede Scozzafava and Doug Hoffman would allow Bill Owens to clinch victory. But Hoffman has been gaining so much strength that the contest’s dynamics have changed, making him a real threat to win the election by combining the vote of enthusiastic conservatives and independents looking to vote for a third-party candidate.

While the most recent public polls, conducted last week, found Scozzafava in second position and slightly ahead of Hoffman, conservative groups released two different surveys today finding Hoffman on top, with Scozzafava far far behind. Club for Growth’s survey has Hoffman at 33%, Owens at 29% and Scozzafava at 20%; Neighborhood Research, polling for the Minuteman Project, has Hoffman up 34% to 29% for Owens and… 14% for Scozzafava! Take both of these polls with a grain of salt, obviously, as they find results that are completely different of any public poll we have seen.

The Club for Growth is now indeed treating the GOP nominee as irrelevant - putting only Bill Owens in the cross hair of their latest ad. “It comes down to two very different candidates,” says the spot. This would certainly seem to suggest that the Club doesn’t seen Scozzafava as a factor anymore.

Similarly, the DCCC recently released a new ad that also ignores Scozzafava and goes straight after “millionaire Doug Hoffman” for having a “waterfront island home — even a classic car collection.” This again looks like a clear sign that Democrats are getting worried enough about Hoffman’s rise that they want to take him down a notch.

But another analysis is possible of these ads, one that still allows that the race is a 3-way race and that Scozzafava remains viable. The DCCC’s ad could easily be reverse psychology, by which I mean that DCCC numbers still have Hoffman third and Democrats want to make sure he still rises to further divide the GOP vote; as for the Club’s ad, Hoffman insisting that his main rival is Owens might not be a consequence of Scozzafava fading but a strategy to make her fade by framing the issue as a 2-way race, present himself as the de facto GOP nominee, get the media to cover him as such and thus asphyxiate Scozzafava.

That said, there is one basic reason to take the possibility of a Hoffman victory very seriously: Conservatives are motivated by this race beyond everyone’s expectations.

Today’s New York Times article is a must-read for its illustration of just how pumped the right is. That so many Republicans who have nothing to do with New York have felt the need to weigh on the race confirms that NY-23 has become a stand-in for all of the conservative frustration with the Republican establishment - a frustration some establishment figures are doing their best to recuperate: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is the latest to endorse Hoffman, while former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson took the time to cut an ad for Hoffman this week!

Endorsements by Minnesota and Tennessee politicians won’t win anyone a race in upstate New York, but this outstanding level of conservative excitement should be a huge factor in a low-turnout special election.

On the other hand, now that Owens can count on the support of the Working Families Party and of SEIU, he is unlikely to have any problems competing with Hoffman at an infrastructural level. Scozzafava, on the other hand, might have trouble being as organized as her two rivals since she is now facing a big fundraising problem.

Upsate New York taken over by the GOP’s civil war

Forget abortion rights or the stimulus bill. The topic about which all Republicans with presidential ambitions are being forced to take a stand is the special election in NY-23!

When Barack Obama announced he would tap John McHugh to be Secretary of the Army back in the spring, he was probably aware he’d give Democrats a shot at picking-up NY-23… but he certainly could not have foreseen he was triggering a charged civil war within the GOP. But the battle between Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava and Conservative nominee Doug Hoffman is becoming an increasingly intense for the GOP’s soul.

The latest to weigh in is none other than Sarah Palin, who endorsed Hoffman in a statement that refers back to Ronald Regan:

Political parties must stand for something. When Republicans were in the wilderness in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan knew that the doctrine of “blurring the lines” between parties was not an appropriate way to win elections. Unfortunately, the Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race. This is why Doug Hoffman is running on the Conservative Party’s ticket.

Another potential presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty, is signaling he will get involved as well, while fellow Minnesotan Rep. Michelle Bachmann already did: Yesterday, she became the first Republican congresswoman to endorse Hoffman.

Scozzafava’s confrontation with local and national conservatives reached fever pitch over the week-end in a bizarre incident involving Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack: After McCormack asked Scozzafava questions relating to abortion, the candidate’s husband called the police and her camp accused McCormack of behaving in a threatening way and screaming. They later had to backtrack when an audiotape released by the AP revealed McCormack was not screaming. Of course, reports that labor and abortion groups had donated to Scozzafava’s campaign didn’t smooth things over.

On the other side is the House’s Republican leadership and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, no centrist himself. Like Palin, Gingrich is choosing to make this race about the broader fight over the GOP should view itself. “If you seek to be a perfect minority, you’ll remain a minority,” he said. “That’s not how Reagan built his revolution or how we won back the House in 1994.” If Hoffman wins the race and NY-23 becomes a template for a conservative rebellion, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gingrich’s comments come back to haunt any presidential quest he might mount in 2012.

That none of these Republicans have anything to do with New York is a testament to how huge the contest’s national stakes have become for the Republican Party. If Hoffman does prevail, it would be far more difficult for the Republican establishment to contain its party’s right-most flank or to portray the Club for Growth as a systematic spoiler force.

Entertaining the confusion are contrasting reports about what is happening on the ground. If we trust all the stories suggesting Scozzafava has no constituency, little money and few people willing to defend her, it might look like she’s fading away into an insignificant position. Indeed, Bachmann justified her endorsement by claiming she was hearing that Hoffman was now in front of Scozzafava and The Washington Post’s The Fix reported hearing about private polls finding just that.

Yet, both public polls recently released of this race draw another picture. Last week, Siena found Bill Owens ahead 33% to 29% for Scozzafava and 23% for Hoffman. And this morning, Research 2000 released a new poll that once again has Owens in the lead (at 35%), with Scozzafava at 30% and Hoffman at 23%. What’s fascinating is that Scozzafava leads big among Republican respondents: 47% versus 27% for Hoffman and 18% for Owens. Among independents, however, Hoffman is ahead 35% with 22% for Scozzafava.

As such, the situation on the ground might be very different than the way in which the election is being treated nationally: Rather than reveal a split between conservatives and centrists, the poll suggests Scozzafava might be in trouble because of the GOP’s dismal reputation among independents - the type of voters who left the party in drove last year and don’t seem eager to come back. (A new national CNN poll confirms this.)

However, that alternative narrative does not square with the fact that Hoffman is emphasizing the conservative element of his candidacy rather than the outsider element. Here is the latest ad released by his campaign:

Hoffman is hoping to become the de facto GOP nominee, and the Research 2000 poll suggests that if he manages to combine his third-party appeal to independents with larger support among Republican voters, he could very well emerge as Bill Owens’s chief competitor.

For now, however, Owens remains the front-runner. He might only be reaching 35% of the poll, but he can actually count on getting that much since most of that support comes from Democrats; if anything, many of these voters will be even more motivated at the prospect of voting for Owens when seeing ads like Hoffman’s.

Owens can enjoy his unbelievable good luck. Selected by local Democratic leaders despite his lack of a party registration (at least Scozzafava had repeatedly ran for office as a Republican), he is now in an excellent position to join Congress thanks to a split in the GOP - whether moderates vs. conservative or registered Republicans versus GOP-leaning independents.

NY-23 now legitimately a 3-way race, which gives Bill Owens an advantage

For months, the GOP has been crowing about the gains it expects to make in the 2010 midterms. Boosted by the projections of non-partisan analysts, Republicans insist they should pick-up as many as 20 seats. Yet, they are now in very clear danger of losing a seat themselves: NY-23’s special election, which over the summer looked like it would be a long shot for Demorats who had no bench to speak of, is turning into a nigthmare for the Republican Party.

In many ways, Dede Scozzafava’s woes are the prolongation of the trainwreck that has become New York’s Republican Party. Over the past few years, they have sabatogated their own prospects in countless of races - whether Rep. Sweeney’s scandal in 2006, Rep. Fossella’s forced retirement and the ensing spectacle in 2008 or Assemblyman Tedisco’s flawed campaign in 2009. Now, it’s the intra-right war Scozzafava and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman that is damaging GOP prospects, ruining the party’s chances of taking advantage of the national environment to score a decisive victory.

This is all the more tragic for Republicans because a Democratic victory in NY-23 would make it very tough for the GOP to point to New Jersey and Virginia’s governorships (assuming they pick-up both) as a harbinger of a coming red wave.

A new Siena poll confirms the narrative of an NRCC nightmare

According to Siena, what two weeks ago was a 7% lead for Scozzafava has swung to a 4% lead for Owens: The Democratic nominee gets 33%, with 29% for Scozzafava and 23% for Hoffman. 15% are undecided. This is now legitimately a 3-way race: three candidates are all within 10%. In a contest that is sure to be decided by low turnout, that means that we could get just about any result on November 3rd. But there is no question that Owens’s prospects are looking increasingly good.

Scozzafava and Hoffman are neutralize each other (over the past 2 weeks, Hoffman rised by 7% and Scozzafava fell by 6%), and there is nothing to suggest the conservative candidate will fade away: 63% of voters still don’t know him, so he still has plenty of room to grow. NY-23 is a swing district, so it’s not like there are so many GOP-leaning voters that the Republicans can afford splitting their vote.

As such, Owens is now in a position to win based on the support of his party’s base alone: In this poll, he only receives 55% of the Democratic vote, so he has room to rise above 33% as he continues to cover the airwaves with his ads. That makes him the front-runner: As long as neither Hoffman nor Scozzafava collapse (allowing the other to become the GOP’s de facto sole nominee) Owens won’t need much more than his current level of support to clinch victory. And of these 3 candidates, Owens is the least likely to lose backers: There is no one trying to take the Democratic base away from him and Owens has enough money to stay in voters’ minds - far more than Scozzafava does.

What is bound to depress Republicans is that the poll is a testament to how favored they would have been had this been a two-way race: Hoffman and Scozzafava together are receiving 52% of the vote. That makes it hard to see how Owens would have been competitive had he only faced Scozzafava.

What might be the reasons of the woes of Scozzafava’s camp?

The first reason that explains Owens and Hoffman’s progression is a shocking report courtesy of Politico: Despite the fact that she is the only politically experienced candidate, Scozzafava has no money to mount a strong campaign effort in the election’s closing weeks. She is being outspent by both her rivals - including by a 12-1 ratio relatively against Owens. For now, she has only been able to spend $26,000 on TV ads, whereas Owens has spent $303,000 and Hoffman has spent $124,000.

This is all the more terrible for Scozzafava because she is the one who is being hammered by both of her opponents - not to mention by the DCCC. It’s not like Owens or Hoffman are paying much attention to each other: (At the moment, Owens does not mind Hoffman’s rise while Hoffman is too busy taking Scozzafava down to worry about the Democrat.) With Scozzafava unable to counter the barrage of ads attacking her, the main reason she is still standing is that she started with a solid advantage in name recognition.

Of course, that factor should not be understated: Scozzafava is in trouble, she is financially uncompetitive - but she is also by far the most experienced candidate in the race. She is well-known in at least one part of the district, she will appear on the Independeent Party’s ballot line and her years as an Assemblywoman make her a credible enough candidate (relatively to her rivals’ lack of a public record) that she seems protected from a full-blown collapse that would leave her a distant third.

But at the moment, she has to find a way to lift herself up while simultaneously beating back two opponents - ensuring she does not lose more moderates to Owens while not letting Hoffman become the de facto GOP nominee. That’s a tough exercise.

The second factor that’s fueling Republican pessimism is that the Democratic base looks more willing to embrace Owens than a few months ago, when union groups were signaling they wouldn’t pay much attention to this race because of the contest’s ideological confusion. Yet, the Working Families Party announced last week it would endorse Owens. That not only means that the Democratic nominee will appear on the WFP’s ballot line, but it also means that he will benefit from their organizational muscle; sure, this is not New York City, but the WFP’s turnout machine should be a big boost to Owens.

Don’t forget that this endorsement was not obvious: The WFP had endorsed Scozzafava in some of her past races. There is little doubt that Scozzafava’s need to watch her right flank prevented her from seeking the WFP’s nod as actively as she might have otherwise. Given Owens’s position on issues like the public option, that might have been enough to at least get the party to sit this one out.

The best news Scozzafava recently received was an endorsement by the NRA, which might just have easily have gone for Hoffman. But what is good for Scozzafava is not necessarily bad for Democrats: the Republican universe is confirming its split between the two contenders that are claiming the GOP mantle. Even Mike Huckabee might be preparing to join in the fun: He is scheduled to speak at a Conservative Party state meeting in the coming weeks.

New Jersey and New York’s special: When independent candidates steal the show

Heading to November 3rd, Democrats are downgrading their ambitions: if they can just win one of the cycle’s remaining races - Virginia’s or New Jersey’s governorships, NY-23’s special election - they’ll breath a huge sigh of relief. But Democrats still have plenty of time to turn things around in at least two of these races. However, if they win in either New Jersey or New York, it won’t be because of a brilliant effort by the still unpopular Corzine or the unnecessarily conservative Bill Owens; it will primarily be due to the presence of independent or third-party contenders.

New Jersey: Corzine closing gap, Daggett shines at debate

Democrats’ best shot is increasingly looking to be New Jersey, where two polls confirm what Quinnipiac found earlier this week: Jon Corzine’s deficit is rapidly shrinking:

  • Monmouth’s survey was conducted from the 24th to the 29th, so it is already a bit outdated. It has Christie leading by just 3% among likely voters, 43% to 40%. Chris Daggett received 8%. Three weeks ago, Christie was up 47% to 39%.
  • Research 2000 finds a similar tightening in a survey conducted from the 28th to the 30th: Christie is ahead 46% to 42%, down from an 8% lead in an August poll that did not include Daggett. Corzine’s favorability rating remains very low (37% to 53%) but it has improved; the Democrat has slightly improved his standing among members of his own party.

If this is the traditional October rise of New Jersey Democrats, however, it is not proving enough for the governor to go beyond the ceiling he has been stuck under since this campaign started. He has never received more than 42% all year, and he fails to cross that threshold again in these two surveys. At least it would clearly be progress if he can start consistently topping 40%.

What is somewhat surprising is that in both polls Corzine has closed the gap without Daggett rising in double-digits. (That is a difference from the Quinnipiac poll I cited above, in which Daggett’s 12% allowed Corzine to face a smaller deficit without enjoying broader support.)

If, on top of this, Daggett starts rising in polls, it would make it far easier for Corzine since he could hope to clinch victory without enjoying broader support. And here’s why the Democrat has reason to hope: Daggett has qualified for state funds, which means he can participate in the gubernatorial debates. That’s something independent contenders are rarely allowed to do, and it should give Daggett enough exposure for him to introduce himself to thousands of voters who have never heard about him.

Yesterday saw the first debate, and The New York Times reports Daggett “stole the show:” “Over 90 tense minutes, Mr. Daggett, 59, seemed to metamorphose from a halting speaker in the early going into a sure-footed vaudevillian, puncturing the arguments of his opponents even as they both seemed to go out of their way to agree with him as often as possible.”

The Times adds that his harshest attacks were aimed at Christie. At one point, Daggett exclaimed: “It’s easy to criticize when you have no plan of your own. The tooth fairy’s not going to solve this problem.”

This is not a surprising choice: Daggett’s obvious constituency should be independent voters who refuse to vote for Corzine but are liberal-leaning enough that they’d rather avoid voting for a Republican. That he still has low name recognition according to most poll hinders his ability to reach out to these voters. Obviously, this debate is unlikely to have been watched by enough voters to cause a substantial change in the numbers, but Daggett will have another opportunity to introduce himself on October 16th.

NY-23: Would there be much to see if Hoffman wasn’t a candidate?

We finally got a public poll of NY-23’s special election, released by Siena, and it has Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman further down than the two surveys we had seen until now. That said, he is at an impressive level for a third-party nominee: 16%. Dede Scozzafava leads Bill Owens, 35% to 28%.

We can’t assume that Scozzafava would receive the backing of all of Hoffman’s supporters if the latter was not in the race, but we can still operate some sort of addition between his 16% and 35% to get confirmation that, in a two-way race, Owens would be too low profile a contender for the race to be as suspenseful as it is now. After all, these numbers cannot just be explained by a big name recognition gap: 47% of respondents have no opinion of Scozzafava, 64% say the same about Owens. That’s a significant differential, but it’s not that dramatic.

Not only has Hoffman arguably made the race worth watching, but he has also been driving the race: His attacks on Scozzafava are putting the Republican nominee on the defensive and they are dictating her messaging. In what is I believe her first ad of the race, Scozzafava touts her fiscal conservatism with rhetoric that looks more destined to keep her voters from going to Hoffman’s camp than to convince Obama voters (the president won the district) to cross over.

Furthermore, Hoffman’s biggest institutional backer - the Club for Growth - has up until now spent about as much on this race as the DCCC and NRCC combined! The Club has dropped $250,000 in an ad blitz while the DCCC has spent $127,000 and the NRCC $150,000.

This is not that surprising when we consider how huge a victory could mean for the Club for Growth: They have defeated incumbents in a GOP primary before, but to get one of their own to the House out of a third-party campaign would shake up power within the right. (Their triumph’s general applicability would be mitigated by the fact that this is a low-turnout special election, however, one where motivated conservative activists are more likely to make a bigger impact.)

We are still far from envisioning a Hoffman victory, of course, but with its $250,000 spending spree the Club can ensure that most district voters hear its argument that Scozzafava is just as close to Nancy Pelosi and David Paterson as is Bill Owens:

Bizarrely, the ad does not mention Scozzafava’s vote in favor of gay marriage - a position I would have thought would be the Club’s Exhibit A against the Republican nominee. Does that mean they are keeping that for a later spot?



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