Doug Hoffman

2009 Alt Histories

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it might be useful to look at the off-year election and consider what alternative strategies might have yielded.  One thing I've learned about politics is never to buy determinism; there are always a variety of possible outcomes.

Well, here's a few scenarios:

a) Terry McAulliffe was the Democratic nominee for Virginia Governor

It's what everyone expected. Would he have done better than Deeds; or was his weak primary showing evidence he'd have been roadkill in the general election?

b) Jon Corzine stands down on October 1;  NJ Dems do the "Torricelli switch" to Rep. Frank Pallone or Newark Mayor Cory Booker

In retrospect, my belief that Corzine was burnt toast proved correct. It's hard to fault his campaign for his loss, the voters simply wanted him gone. But what if after using Corzine's cash to bloody up Christie the NJ Dems threw a "relief pitcher" into the race? Different outcome? Or would NJ voters reacted poorly to this strategy being used twice? 

c) Deeds runs as an anti-Obama "New Democrat" ala Mark Warner; focuses on downstate VA


d) Deeds runs as a outspoken Obamabot and focuses on NOVA

The consensus is Deeds did neither well and got crushed. Would choosing one or the other have made any difference?

e) No one outside NY State comes to the aid of Doug Hoffman

The Club for Growth, Sarah Palin, Erick Erickson and Glenn Beck are credited or blamed for what happened in NY 23. Given what happened in the local state senate race in 2004, I think the NY Conservative Party was capable under its own power to ensure Scozzafava's defeat? Agree? Disagree?

And what would the national impact of a "quiet" Owens victory have been?

Throw some other possible scenarios out there. Let's reverse engineer these races if we can.

NY 23: The Tempest and the Tea Party

A number of liberal Democrats today are celebrating Democrat Bill Owens' victory over Conservative Doug Hoffman, but these liberals fail to realize that Conservatives are celebrating too. As Barack Obama meddled in local politics across the nation and poured money into obscure districts, Conservatives built upon the resolve that led to the first Tea Party and culminated last night in a lion's roar directed at the GOP party elite. From RedState emphasis mine:

“First, the GOP now must recognize it will either lose without conservatives or will win with conservatives. In 2008, many conservatives sat home instead of voting for John McCain. Now, in NY-23, conservatives rallied and destroyed the Republican candidate the establishment chose.“

Tea Party patriots are tired of Republicans treating them like children at the kids table. Tired of the “there, there” comments as average Americans question their compromises and suspect partnerships. When Republicans cross the aisle and double cross their constituents on Cap and Trade or health care, regular Americans are expected to tend to their families, pay their taxes and take no notice.


However, that simmering resistance reached a boiling point as Republicans used an old “business as usual trick.”

“Meanwhile, the Republicans keep running 'moderates' who prove to be very useful to the Democrats… which keeps the growth of the State bubbling along at Bush levels. The radical nature of the current Administration makes the idea of 'moderate' compromise laughable. What’s the moderate position on freedom-crushing trillion-dollar health care and environmentalist legislation? They’re okay, as long as the Democrats pinky-swear to keep the cost under $800 billion? That’s the kind of promise no politician could keep, even if it was made in earnest. A moderate Republican is someone who lives in a state of perpetual surprise as he ponders the monthly bills for nanny-state government. What’s the point of electing people who are guaranteed to spend the rest of their political careers complaining about how they’ve been played for fools?”


Last night's victory in NY 23 may be sweet for some Democrats, but Obama is not savoring this victory. Exit polling reveal that most voters who rejected local Democrats still supported the president. How much of that support lies in the administration's strong arm tactics? The White House quickly moves with ACORN-like speed to silence its opponents with cries of racism or extremist labels. On the other side of the spectrum, the White House has used the Treasury Department to buy and to maintain support at the local level.



"Can You Hear Me NOW?" The Allamon Cartoon Blog

In New York this arrangement was almost executed flawlessly. With Republicans backing the “white friend” of ACORN's Bertha Lewis and big labor/SEIU backing Owens, Obama and the Democrats were guaranteed a friendly vote and if Scozzafava won, they could tout the unprecedented levels of bipartisanship in the age of Obama. In a bold move to continue the consolidation of power by radical Leftists, Obama invested a billion dollars into one Congressional district and ensured that the seat would become available this year.


Doug Hoffman's candidacy was much bigger than him. It signaled the reemergence of the American citizen as “the ruler of the roost” and both parties have taken notice. Some career politicians find the notion of having to answer to “the people” galling, and continue to undermine the will of the people. However, politicians like representatives Steve King of Iowa, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and of course, Sarah Palin, are continuing to shake up Washington.


The era of change has arrived and it appears that opportunistic politicians are the first thing to go:

“Change is not an open ended mandate or a blank check. Change is a warning to either perform or meet the same fate as the last incumbent. And while Obama was clutching the keys to the kingdom in his dirty little hands, flying endlessly around the world, taking Air Force One on dates and primping and posing for magazine covers; ordinary Americans were losing jobs, families were cutting back, credit card bills piled up, vacations vanished and people came to work every day not knowing if it would be their last. Tonight was a major warning sign to Obama that these Two Americas cannot co-exist forever. And sooner or later Americans will want their White House back from its current lazy and debauched tenants.”



What Did NY-23 Mean?

[Disclosure: I worked with the Doug Hoffman campaign. However, the views here are my own. I have not discussed this at all with the Hoffman campaign.]

The bottom line on NY-23:

  • Doug Hoffman just won the Republican Primary. The general election is next year.
  • There are two broken, corrupt, arrogant political parties we need to defeat.  We beat the Republican establishment in 2009.  We'll beat the Democratic Party in 2010.
  • NY-23 is not really about Conservatives VS Moderates.  It is about the Establishment VS the Movement.

What happened in NY-23:

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that blue state Republicans had to nominate a "not too hot, not too cold" candidate - what my friend Max Borders called a Keynesian political strategy of tweaking the policy variables until you get a candidate whose positions seem most appealing to the most people.  Like Keynesian economic tinkering, it all works very well....until some fundamental shift reveals the underlying artificiality, and it all falls apart.

Political parties gain power by standing for something appealing.  But when a party gains power, it loses definition.  Rather than standing for something appealing and well-defined, they try to stand for anything appealing enough to win.  But you can only tinker so much before you destroy the brand that people had elected, and then you become the minority again.

The minority is where Parties and movements go to be reborn.  There, they have to figure out who they are, and what their mission is.  You can't storm the castle until you're all facing the same direction and focused on the same goals.  Sometimes - as in NY-23 - that involves telling the establishment "Thank you, but our mission is in another castle" (If I might borrow political wisdom from Super Mario Bros).

The establishment GOP - the NY GOP, the NRCC, the RNC and a few prominent Republicans - got behind another establishment GOP type in Dede Scozzafava. In any other recent year, she would have sailed through.  Not in 2009.

The public - including moderates, libertarians and alienated Republicans - has grown much more nervous about Democratic governance.  The Tea Party movement is just one manifestation of the sparks that are flying, but it goes far deeper than that, and the establishment GOP has been oblivious to, or dismissive of, these sparks. With Dede Scozzafava, the establishment Republican Party threw gasoline on top of the sparks and a brushfire erupted.  The result was the quintessential "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" campaign of Doug Hoffman.

What NY-23 Is About

The story of NY-23 is not "conservatives beat moderates" or "conservative loses to Democrat".

The story of NY-23 is "the Right starts dismantling the Republican establishment."  This is about how the Republican Party is defined and who defines it.

Right now, the movement wants the Republican Party to be defined by opposition to big government. Gradually, as new leaders arise, we will demand that the Republican Party be defined by its own solutions, as well, but rebuilding is an incremental process. We can hammer out the policy agenda and the boundaries of the coalition later.

For now, our job is to disrupt the establishment GOP.  If we beat Democrats while we're at it, great. But the first priority is to fix the Drunk Party - the Living Dead establishment Republicans. They're history. They just don't know it yet.

NY-23 was the first shot in that war.  It was a direct hit.  Next year, we start storming the castle.

Obama camp: Gives up on VA Gov and NY 23.

At 12:13 pm EDT 10/31/09 , Barack Obama's personal political arm, Organizing for America, sent this e-mail to their list

President Obama needs our help.On Tuesday, voters in New Jersey will go to the polls to elect their next Governor. They'll face a stark choice between Chris Christie -- who will bring failed Bush-era policies back to New Jersey -- and Governor Jon Corzine, who has fought side-by-side with President Obama.Jon Corzine is the only candidate in the race who will be a strong partner for President Obama and work with him to fix our broken health care system and get our economy back on track.So President Obama is counting on us to call Corzine supporters and make sure they show up at the polls Tuesday. In a tight race like this, calling just two or three voters could make the difference -- and our online tool will make calling quick and easy. Get started now:Call Corzine supporters in New Jersey and turn out the vote. 

One can only infer from the omission of any other Democratic candidates that at the last minute the Obama White House has thrown in the towel on VA Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds and NY 23 Democratic candidate Bill Owens, and is doubling down solely on trying to salvage the re-election bid of Jon Corzine, who pulled his own "October surprise" against himself Friday suggesting to the NY Times massive toll hikes on the NJ Turnpike were likely after he gets re-elected.  Which he now denies. Sure. 

We'll see if all of Obama's horses and all of Obama's men can put an incompetent Governor in office again.



Anyone seen Sarah Palin lately?

We have not seen former Governor Palin out and about for awhile. Indeed, the various bloggers @ Conservatives4Palin often complain that the McDonnell and Christie campaigns haven't demanded her to walk the length of VA or NJ with them.

And right now, I' ve seen no indication she's going to campaign this season. But is there some huge surprise brewing?

I recall that before the 2008 Republican National Convention she swooped into Ohio out of nowhere for her debut. 

I know she's a "hockey mom" and I also know one candidate associated with the 1980 Winter Olympics.

There's an fairly large airport just minutes from the Lake Placid Ice arena and the Hoffman campaign HQ. Could there be one more surprise left in the NY 23 race?   Could she just show up on Doug Hoffman's doorstep and alert the local media?

Sure would upstage Joe Biden

NY-23 Across America

What follows may be akin to one of those crazy ideas Dick Morris used to come up with in the Clinton White House, only one in ten of which turned out to be workable -- but when they worked, oh man, did they work.

The key fact that sticks out in my mind about Doug Hoffman's incredible momentum in NY-23 is that his election would not have been possible had he been the Republican nominee. The fact that we may be about to elect a non-squish from New York has everything to do with the fact that he is running as a third-party independent, and not a Republican (even if the Conservative Party is an auxiliary of the Republicans in most elections).

Hoffman as a Republican would have been too obvious a target and the subject of a relentless barrage of negative TV, websites, mail, and phones branding him as outside the mainstream, anti-choice, anti-worker, etc. But politically, Hoffman has managed to avoid all that until five days out, when it's now clear he's the frontrunner. And as Chris Cillizza points out this morning, Hoffman's success in the polls is built on the back among strong support among independents and (primarily) not Republican regulars disgusted at Scozzafava.

This got me thinking: How many points is an Independent party label worth, assuming you're able to vie for Republican votes in a general election? 5? 10? We know that in races with a plausible third party, that candidate automatically tends to earn more independent and moderate support even if they are ideologically indistinguishable from a Republican (Hoffman) or a Democrat (Chris Daggett in New Jersey).

We also know from Daggett's run in a strong-party, machine state that American politics is entering a phase of third party strength which we last saw in the early '90s with Ross Perot and culminating in the Republican Revolution of '94.

This led me to tweet the following this morning:

Brainstorm: what if Republicans were to withdraw from a series of hot Congressional races and run as conservative independents a la #ny23?

I am not one to believe that a situation exactly like Hoffman's is recreatable across the spectrum. Certainly, we would not want to have to take out every slightly wobbly Republican nominee (Scozzafava's problem was that she was very wobbly) with a third party conservative. With 435 House races on the ballot in 2010, the conservative movement won't have the energy to concentrate its Death Star gamma ray on hapless local establishments in every district.

But what if it were to happen peacefully? Or as a concerted strategy to gain votes?

What if you were to have promising Republican candidates running in Democratic-lean seats say, a few months out from the election, "Let me tell you something. I'm just as sick and tired of the Republicans as I am of the Democrats. So, from this moment forward, I'm running as a common-sense, Independent conservative for Congress."

From one perspective, this would not be helpful to efforts to tie the Republican brand to a broader sense of popular disgust at the Obama/Pelosi overreach. On the other hand, it might be a way for conservatives to invade the center, and thus control the high ground politically.

If you're a party person, don't dismiss this just yet. Say you're the NRCC and you haven't found a good recruit against a vulnerable House Democrat. Say the Republican nominee is a joke, or the incumbent is unopposed. Three months out, you go to your star recruit who turned you down a year ago and ask him to run as an independent. It's a three month campaign as opposed to an 18-month campaign. They don't have to quit their law practice or small business. They enter in the last few miles of the race, and you put serious pressure on the joke nominee to step aside, or put out word through local media and talk radio that this is the guy.

Now, I know one could raise myriad issues here. Ballot access for one. The reflexive aversion to third parties. The relative infrequency of unchallenged vulnerable Democrats, especially because 2010 won't be 2008 or 2006. And the prospect of bloody intra-party battles after the nomination has been settled.

All of these risks are arrayed against a few salient facts. First, the rising disgust at incumbent politicians that will play out over the next couple of years, accompanied by a "pox on both your houses" sentiment. Second, a proven history of entire party blocs picking up and moving to third parties when they need to (NY-23, or Joe Lieberman's 2006 re-election). There are two possibilities for an ideological third party candidate -- they can either flop and pose no serious threat (which happens the vast majority of the time because the candidates are nobodies) or dominate (if they are credible).

In a handful of races, perhaps in places where we can't win with the Republican label alone, it might be more useful for the general election to be a strong Independent versus a Democrat rather than a Republican versus a Democrat. At one extreme of the Cook PVI, let's stipulate that the general election against Charlie Rangel was waged with a Puerto Rican small business owner running on the No More Corrupt Politicians Party line with behind the scenes, logistical support from the GOP. At a minimum, that person would stand a better chance than a Republican in that district.

I'm a strong party guy, but I also believe in Sun Tzu's maxim that you do the unexpected to throw your opponent off balance. Strategically unleashing a swarm of conservative independents may be one such strategy for 2010. endorses Hoffman?

Well, for everyone who ISN'T a left wing whack job, it sure sounds like one!

Of course, it start with the requiisite "teabagger" insult, but here's the rest.

...And a victory for an anti-reform teabagger just before the big health care votes will send exactly the wrong message to Democrats who are nervous about their own re-election....

Charlie Cook, one of the most respected political analysts in Washington, says that a Hoffman win would "shock Washington and force both parties to rethink their strategies."4  

It would dramatically strengthen the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican party. And as for the Democrats—remember how the teabaggers' town hall disruptions rattled conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats? Imagine how hard it'll be to pass progressive legislation if conservative Democrats spend the next year worrying that they may be unseated by people who think Medicare is socialism and President Obama isn't a U.S. citizen.

It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. But it is. Which is why Bill Clinton and others are working hard to raise the money Bill Owens needs to win. Local MoveOn members voted 77% to endorse Owens. But they need our help.

I think I've been inspired by this message, Time to send Hoffman more cash!

NY 23: Time to pivot, Doug

I'll be short and to the point.

Doug, the mission of getting the national conservative movement engaged is accomplished..

Stop cancelling local forums to do more national interviews. Right now the most important media people in your world are the anchors for the 5,6 and 11 pm news in Syracuse.

Make sure you have something useful to say about the arcane local issues. The "throw out the bums" voters are with you. Upstaters are very practical people though. They will not elect a Congressman who doesn't share their concerns over Thruway tolls, Indian land claims and the future of Ft. Drum.

Wear the white hat. Don't risk this by getting snarky.

And realize that Scozzafava and Owens have a hard core of loyalists up in the North Country. They think that's the whole 23rd District. So spend the time you need in the "South Country"....the counties along I-90 and I-481. (Oswego, Fulton, Madison and Oneida).That's 40% of the district and your opponents have no local roots there.

That's it. Now it's time to execute.


Two topics Newt Gingrich should avoid dissing others about: Infidelity and Carpetbagging

Newt Gingrich's latest charge against Doug Hoffman is ---egads--he doesn't live within the 23rd District.

It's about 10 minutes through thinly populated mountains from Hoffman's Lake Placid home (in the 20th District) to his Saranac Lake HQ.  It's not like he lives in another part of the state; it's just Essex County got bisected in the 2002 redistricting.

Why this is a bizarre charge for Gingrich to make is he himself ran in a district he didn't live in; and based on my knowledge of Georgia geography, was about an hour from where he lived when he filed for election.   

During the 1990s round of redistricting, Georgia picked up an additional seat as a result of the 1990 United States Census. However, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly dismantled Gingrich's old district, which stretched from the southern suburbs of Atlanta to the Alabama border. Gingrich's home in Carrollton was drawn into the Columbus-based 3rd District, represented by five-term Democrat Richard Ray.

At the same time, the Assembly created a new 6th District in Fulton and Cobb counties in the wealthy northern suburbs of Atlanta — an area Gingrich had never represented. However, Gingrich sold his home in Carrollton, moved to Marietta in the new 6th and won a very close Republican primary. The primary victory was tantamount to election in the new, heavily Republican district. Also, Ray narrowly lost to Republican state senator Mac Collins.

Evidently, Newt thought his continued service in Congress was more valuable than electing a Cobb County native to the House. The voters agreed, although I recall Newt's relocation was not met with universal approval from his new constituents.

If Newt has a credible excuse for his Beltway brain freeze, he's yet to provide it.  The fact creative cartography divided parts of the Adirondacks sure isn't one of them. 

Hey, NRCC/RNC...want data?

Erick Erickson, who is admittedly the mastermind behind Doug-mania in the Rightosphere, has a rather disturbing post in RedState.

Two party officials tell POLITICO that the NRCC will continue to air TV ads propping up Scozzafava in the days leading up to the Nov. 3 contest and plans to keep up a near relentless barrage of press releases slamming Hoffman.

Here’s my favorite part, which is also the most insulting:

Asked why so many prominent Republicans had thrown their support to Hoffman, the official responded, “We’re dealing with data, not hopes and dreams

OK. I'm a data driven guy. Let's look at these numbers.

1. Let's assume the Kos poll is correct.   It shows Doug Hoffman in third place. It also shows Dede Scozzafava with the highest negatives in the race. And that if Hoffman wasn;t running, very few of his supporters would show any interest in backing Scozzafava. And, hmm what is the likely impact on such voters of running negatives on Hoffman?

Democrat candidate Bill Owens is sitting pretty;  by my estimates if he turns out the same Democratic House vote the losing candidate got in the 2006 midterm (which had turnout comparable to the 2009 20th CD special) he stands to win. Especially since the NRCC strategy will lead to less Republican turnout. Brilliant. 

2. With the exception of Newt Gingrich, most informed people realize Scozzafava is going to be one of, if not the most liberal members of the GOP caucus. And the one most likely to switch parties (more on the reasoning later).  On the other hand, Owens was a registered independent until recently and has focused much of his campaign on military issues.  So, it seems reasonable to think he's be a bit of a Blue Dog, especially compared to other northeastern Democrats.

True, Owens is a pro "public option" vote. But can we be sure Scozzafava isn't?. She hasn't committed, has she? (The Politico seems to think she's off the reservation already)

Query to the Beltway Brain Trust: How much is a RINO worth to us compared to a Blue Dog?  Maybe we'd be better off losing the bidding war and letting Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer try and keep another wobbler in line.   

3. This seat is a rental. Not a purchaseNew York will certaintly lose a House Seat for '12. The Democrats are highly likely to control reapportionment (they control it now). The 23rd is the least Republican seat we still hold in NY; it has no major population centers, and will be held by a low seniority member.  The Democrats will make an upstate Republican walk the plank and the 23rd could easily be parcelled out between the Democrat held 20th (Saratoga), 24th (Utica) and 25th (Syracuse) districts.  

Which comes to Scozzafava switching parties. Anyone think she wouldn't flip parties to save her district and make a Republican colleague lose his seat in the re-map? Please.

4, Stop doing single-entry accounting, folks.  The DC Republicans are looking at the cost of holding one House seat.  And that's not insignificant. But they certainly don't have the cash-on-hand to fight in 40-60 seats next fall. That's going to take a monumental effort from the party's contrbutor base.

Hmm, guys, where do you plan to get that cash after you tell your most loyal contributors to stuff it? Last time I checked, K Street had sold out to Obama and Pelosi.  Unless you plan to borrow Ben Bernacke's printing press, appeasing the folks who write you checks might seem like a good idea.  

5, For the effect of electing a useless RINO while alienating the financial base of the party, please look up this definition. You genuises in DC are bright enough to figure this concept out, right?

When one considers the potential lost revenue for next year, this might turn out to be the most expensive House campaign in American history.

It seems the NRCC simply can't get out of its own way when it comes to upstate New York elections.  In 2006 they helped lose the 24th District, in 2008 we lost the 25th and 29th districts. And early this year their efforts were so counterproductive in the 20th District Jim Tedisco had to disavow them.

My suggestion to the DC Republicans. Quit while you're behind.  Punt on 4th down. Accept that the voters are going to do what they are going to do in the 23rd District. And hire someone with a clue before the '10 cycle gets going in earnest.

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