The Sienna poll of New York's 23rd Congressional district released Friday found Democrat Bill Owens pulling into the lead with 33 percent, followed by liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava at 29 and Conservative Party hopeful Doug Hoffman at 23.
Combined, the Republican and Conservative lines lead the Democrat 52 to 33 percent. And in a normal election, that would be that -- maybe 95% of the time the Conservatives cross-endorse the Republican.
Scozzafava's particularly egregious liberal record -- pro-card check and pro-stimulus -- rendered that impossible. And so we are faced with a center-right vote that's nearly evenly split, enabling a Democrat (who many believe to be more conservative than Scozzafava) to squeak by.
It is a simple, indisputable fact that the Republican and Conservative voters of NY-23 will have to rally around one candidate to prevent a Democratic pickup. And that candidate should be Conservative Republican Doug Hoffman.
Sadly, the RNC and NRCC are doubling down on a flawed candidate with little chance of generating any significant momentum in the last 16 days. In many ways, this should be a situation like Bernie Sanders' many elections in Vermont, or Joe Lieberman's election in 2006, where there should be no harm and no foul in supporting a viable, like-minded independent over a non-starting major party nominee.
Instead, this looks set to go down as yet another misfire by DC Republicans, drying up the small donor base to the committees with a shortsighted "all Republicans are created equal" approach to supporting liberal Republicans when perfectly acceptable conservative alternatives exist.
I'm not one to suggest that the party should go out of its way to anoint candidates who can't win in blue states. Rather, I am suggesting that there is a pragmatic case for the NRSC and NRCC to stay neutral in more primaries or support conservatives in a way that doesn't lose elections -- and makes it more likely that Mitch McConnell will prevail on the Senate floor more often.
Take everyone's favorite example, the Florida Senate race. There is no doubting the fact -- even amongst conservatives -- that Charlie Crist is practically unbeatable in a general election. Let's peg his chances against Kendrick Meek at 95 percent.
The problem is that Marco Rubio is no slouch in this department either. The polls I've seen have him up double digits over Meek. Assume that Rubio's chances in a general election are between 80 and 85 percent.
Looking at electability only, Crist would still come out ahead. But that doesn't necessarily give Senate Republicans their best outcome. Notice I said Senate Republicans, not conservatives.
Naturally, the national party is going to go for the "W" wherever it can in order to bolster its number of seats. And if this were the only thing that mattered, electability alone would be king.
The problem, as we are finding out in the health care debate, is that it's not enough to have 60 Democrats to break a filibuster, or 41 Republicans to sustain one. How your members vote in that process matters to the outcome. In deciding which candidates to support, the national party committees -- not just activists -- should be looking at whether the candidates are likely to support leadership on key floor votes. If Rubio is just 10 or 15 percent better than Crist on key votes, Crist's electability advantage is nullified from the perspective of Leader McConnell and the Senate Republican Conference.
To me, this could go either way given that Crist is not liberal in the way that Olympia Snowe is, and that his maverickness has always been more about staking out a particular brand in Florida than currying favor with a liberal electorate. But even so, the PR advantage of having a high-profile Hispanic conservative with a potential national career ahead of him tips the scale in Rubio's favor.
The same would go in California. Carly Fiorina does not have a particularly strong electability advantage over Chuck DeVore, and her celebrity CEO past renders her vulnerable to rookie mistakes and greater scrutiny of her private sector activities. It would be one thing for the NRSC to support Fiorina if she were polling 10 to 15 points better than DeVore against Boxer, but she's not.
In deciding whether to support conservatives like Hoffman, Rubio, and DeVore, there is a reasonable middle ground between craven winnerism and a kamikaze strategy that ignores electability. The committees should factor in adherence to core Republican principles (in addition to electability) because the job of a political party is not just to win elections, but to win votes on the floor. And though the impact of an errant member is much less in the House than it is in the Senate, Scozzafava's not-so-veiled threats to switch parties if she isn't treated nicely should render her completely unacceptable to Michael Steele and Pete Sessions, who should make it clear that they won't be blackmailed.