Glenn Beck's Jihad on Moderate Republicans

Tuesday night, Democrats took New York's 23rd Congressional District -- a feat they haven't achieved in sixteen years. How did they achieve this victory? They can thank Glenn Beck for serving it to them on a silver platter.

It all began six weeks ago with the announcement of the special election to replace John McHughes in upstate New York. Local Democrats and Republicans nominated their respective candidates -- as is the precedent for such elections. Republicans chose New York State Assembly member Dede Scozzafava, a moderate who is pro-choice and pro-same sex marriage, confident that she would win the district. As anticipated, Scozzafava held a seven point lead in the polls over her Democratic opponent Bill Owens even while Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman was holding 16% of the district vote away from her. The Republican strategy to hold the seat was playing out seamlessly.

Enter Glenn Beck, the popular conservative talk show host whose celebrity and ratings have skyrocketed since President Obama entered office. Beck decided that Scozzafava wasn't conservative enough and shouldn't represent the Republicans in Congress. Committed to reinventing this congressional race, Beck invited Doug Hoffman to appear on his radio program to showcase and endorse his platform. From his pulpit, talk show host Beck continued to champion Hoffman through the remainder of the campaign. Beck encouraged Republicans across the country to contribute to Hoffman's campaign, which resulted in a hundred thousand dollars raised from outside the district.

Next, presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty entered into the picture to endorse Hoffman.

Because of the Glenn Beck phenomenon, Hoffman rose in the polls and Scozzafava dropped -- significantly -- as Bill Owens, the Democratic nominee, stayed constant. In a dramatic turn of events, the weekend before Election Day, Scozzafava dropped out of the race, citing an inability to raise money, and endorsed Owens. The likely story? She was fed up with the Republican Party. On Election Day, Owens carried the district over Hoffman, 49% to 45.5%.

So the Democrats won another seat in Congress that has traditionally been held by a Republican.

In order to win back Congress in 2006, Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, handpicked candidates who didn't necessarily align themselves with all party issues but fit the demographics their respective districts. Using this strategy, Democrats were able to take over the House. Calling the House takeover a referendum on President Bush and the Republicans, they harnessed the momentum, which carried them all the way to the White House in 2008.  

The Republicans need to employ a similar strategy to take back the House. The health care reform proposed by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats is unpopular. The economy flounders while taxes rise. In the next election, constituents are ripe for the picking. Republicans now have the chance to take back the districts they lost in 2006...and more.

What will happen if conservative talk show hosts like Glenn Beck target moderate Republicans in 2010? The election in NY-23 sends a clear message that moderate Republicans are targets for conservative media. This means candidates in democratic districts don't have a snowflake's chance in hell to win. If a candidate leans too conservative, he will lose the district; drift towards the center, and risk being attacked by Beck.

If Republican leaders are serious about taking over the House, they need to make sure Beck doesn't launch his own jihad on moderate candidates in left-leaning districts. It's always difficult to unseat incumbent congressmen. Republican candidates can't afford to spend time ducking shots from their own party.

Elliot Schimel is a political and corporate communications consultant and strategist who is based in New York City.
Tuesday night, Democrats took New York's 23rd Congressional District -- a feat they haven't achieved in sixteen years. How did they achieve this victory? They can thank Glenn Beck for serving it to them on a silver platter.

It all began six weeks ago with the announcement of the special election to replace John McHughes in upstate New York. Local Democrats and Republicans nominated their respective candidates -- as is the precedent for such elections. Republicans chose New York State Assembly member Dede Scozzafava, a moderate who is pro-choice and pro-same sex marriage, confident that she would win the district. As anticipated, Scozzafava held a seven point lead in the polls over her Democratic opponent Bill Owens even while Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman was holding 16% of the district vote away from her. The Republican strategy to hold the seat was playing out seamlessly.

Enter Glenn Beck, the popular conservative talk show host whose celebrity and ratings have skyrocketed since President Obama entered office. Beck decided that Scozzafava wasn't conservative enough and shouldn't represent the Republicans in Congress. Committed to reinventing this congressional race, Beck invited Doug Hoffman to appear on his radio program to showcase and endorse his platform. From his pulpit, talk show host Beck continued to champion Hoffman through the remainder of the campaign. Beck encouraged Republicans across the country to contribute to Hoffman's campaign, which resulted in a hundred thousand dollars raised from outside the district.

Next, presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty entered into the picture to endorse Hoffman.

Because of the Glenn Beck phenomenon, Hoffman rose in the polls and Scozzafava dropped -- significantly -- as Bill Owens, the Democratic nominee, stayed constant. In a dramatic turn of events, the weekend before Election Day, Scozzafava dropped out of the race, citing an inability to raise money, and endorsed Owens. The likely story? She was fed up with the Republican Party. On Election Day, Owens carried the district over Hoffman, 49% to 45.5%.

So the Democrats won another seat in Congress that has traditionally been held by a Republican.

In order to win back Congress in 2006, Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, handpicked candidates who didn't necessarily align themselves with all party issues but fit the demographics their respective districts. Using this strategy, Democrats were able to take over the House. Calling the House takeover a referendum on President Bush and the Republicans, they harnessed the momentum, which carried them all the way to the White House in 2008.  

The Republicans need to employ a similar strategy to take back the House. The health care reform proposed by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats is unpopular. The economy flounders while taxes rise. In the next election, constituents are ripe for the picking. Republicans now have the chance to take back the districts they lost in 2006...and more.

What will happen if conservative talk show hosts like Glenn Beck target moderate Republicans in 2010? The election in NY-23 sends a clear message that moderate Republicans are targets for conservative media. This means candidates in democratic districts don't have a snowflake's chance in hell to win. If a candidate leans too conservative, he will lose the district; drift towards the center, and risk being attacked by Beck.

If Republican leaders are serious about taking over the House, they need to make sure Beck doesn't launch his own jihad on moderate candidates in left-leaning districts. It's always difficult to unseat incumbent congressmen. Republican candidates can't afford to spend time ducking shots from their own party.

Elliot Schimel is a political and corporate communications consultant and strategist who is based in New York City.