To follow up on John’s earlier post on the special election in NY-20, my opinion is that Larison is partly but not completely right. He writes:
But if Murphy does win it will mean that an out-of-state transplant made up a 20-point deficit against a fixture of regional politics in less than six weeks, and he will have done it in a district where Republicans enjoy a registration advantage of many tens of thousands (71,000 to be exact, which is approximately 25% of the size of the 2008 turnout).
Most of the make-up in deficit was due to name recognition increasing. That happens in any race like this that pits a well-known local guy, Tedisco, against a newcomer like Murphy. Tedisco was never going to win by 20 points. But Larison is right that it’s a Republican district and the Republican candidate is well-known, so Tedisco should be winning pretty comfortably (let’s say by 6-12 points).
Larison also writes:
When Gillibrand won in 2006, it could be written off as part of a wave and a reaction against Sweeney’s scandals, and when Gillibrand was re-elected and Obama carried the district it could be written off to some extent as part of another wave and a reaction against the financial crisis and recession, but if the Democrats hold the seat for the third time that begins to suggest a pattern. It may mean that the GOP’s strongholds in the hinterlands of the Northeast, already disappearing in New Hampshire, are also eroding in upstate New York.
This is mostly right. If Tedisco loses tonight, it means that the Republican party is dead in the northeast. But that may have already been true. They only hold 2 upstate Congressional seats in NYS right now (McHugh and Lee) after holding six seats in 2004. That’s out of 12 so it’s a huge change.
I would argue, though, that New York State has its own brand of politics. There’s still a lot of Rockefeller Republicanism and huge tolerance for taxing and spending among both parties. Unions are big but in state races Republicans do well with unions. NYS is a big state with perceived big cultural differences between upstate and downstate (I’m not sure they’re as big as some people think but the perception is there) and a lot of upstaters are Republicans in order to oppose downstate Democrats, not to support George W. Bush and John McCain. Obama won NY-20 by three points despite the huge Republican registration advantage.
All of that said, as a nearly lifelong State Assembly member, Tedisco should have been able to tap into what it is that makes people in NY-20 stay registered as Republicans. But he was handcuffed by a heavy-handed national strategy.
And that’s what makes this race significant. Republicans are never going to win in New England but they can be competitive in the Rust Belt. Upstate New York is somewhere between New England and the Rust Belt, geographically and culturally (it’s probably a bit closer to the Rust Belt culturally overall). Presumably, there are local Republican officials throughout the Rust Belt who know how to appeal to local voters. But if they’re forced to take orders from southerners (like Cantor and Boehner), then they’re screwed. I think tonight’s race may well be harbinger of that.