While I am not happy with Congressional leadership's lack of an effective communications strategy explaining the need for entitlement reforms, I am not reading much of anything into Tuesday's special election in NY-26. Conditions in that district are unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report seems to think along similar lines. This is what he had to say last week.
If anyone can find a race next year with a similar configuration, be my guest and apply the "lessons learned" from this race to that one. But implying that the outcome of this race portends anything about any conventional race next year amounts to cheap spin and drive-by "analysis" of the most superficial kind, which is sadly becoming all too prevalent in Washington. There are a lot of folks in D.C. who would be well-served switching to decaf.
Cook is commenting upon two conditions in this race that are not likely to be replicated anywhere else. First, there was no primary to help build grass roots momentum for the Republican candidate. Instead the Republican standard bearer was selected by state party insiders who seem bent on maintaining their perfect goose egg in special elections. The candidate they chose seemed unprepared for a well financed third party challenge, unable to articulate conservative principles and was slow to respond to negative ads. Like the old recipe that begins, first catch your rabbit, every winning election strategy starts with finding that candidate who both articulates a winning message and who connects on a gut level with voters. Show me a state where the Republican Party is in trouble and the odds are that too many of the candidates will be lackluster insiders or retreads. Second I don't think there is a political website that I've visited in the last month that wasn't festooned the ads paid for by so called Tea Party candidate Jack Davis. A wealthy industrialist, Davis, age 78, claimed to be a Republican before he was kicked out of 2003 fundraiser for confronting Vice President Cheney on the issue of trade. Davis then ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2004, 2005 and 2008, upsetting many local Democrats in the process. In these bids Davis spent $5.2 million of his own money. Most of it was on negative ads because Davis does little or no actual campaigning and refuses to participate in political debates. His pet positions are a type of nativism as he is against both free trade and immigration. This year Davis did another political about face, seeking the endorsement of both the Republican and Conservative Parties for the special election. When that failed he created and funded his own third party, which can be done with some ease in New York compared to other jurisdictions. In doing so, he never consulting local Tea Party activists about hijacking their label. Once again, Davis was generously self financed.
He's put $2.1 million into the special election campaign so far. According to Federal Election Commission reports, not a single penny has been donated to his campaign by anyone else. He paid for petition-collectors to help get his name on the ballot.
All of this is widely known by the political insiders, but true to form many are following the narrative that the special election in NY-26 is the template that Democrats can follow to regain the majority in 2012. I wish that were the case, but I suspect Steve Israel of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of the Democrat National Committee will not be spending the next several months searching for several dozen multimillionaire political loons willing to self finance quixotic third party campaigns. Instead they will be busy doing what party leaders are supposed to do, which is to find outstanding men and women who are up to the challenge of appealing to a majority of the voters in the district.