NY23: Hoffmania Misinterpreted

Two weeks ago, in the sleep-deprived aftermath of Election Night in New York’s 23rd District, I overlooked a couple of analyses which I just stumbled across. Ron Radosh wrote:

The reason Doug Hoffman lost in the NY 23rd Congressional District is that he ran as a purist of the take no enemies Right — that believes simple continual statements of the most far right conservative principles, particularly emphasizing so-called social conservative issues like opposition to abortion and to gay rights, would be the path to electoral triumph. . . .
Republicans want to win, they cannot confuse the views of their most far Right elements with that of the electorate to which they seek to appeal; they need candidates of the center-right who address their constituents’ concerns, and who do not turn away potential moderates and centrists whose margin of votes could guarantee their electoral victory.

This is such a complete misinterpretation of the Hoffman campaign that I scarcely know where to begin correcting Radosh’s errors. Hoffman was not a “purist” or a figure of the “far right,” and Radosh’s assertion that he lost because of an excessive emphasis “opposition to abortion and to gay rights” has no basis in fact.

I covered multiple campaign appearances by Hoffman, repeatedly traversed the 23rd District from Plattsburgh to Watertown to the outer Syracuse suburbs, and followed the campaign (including the advertisements for all three candidates) on local TV, radio and newspapers. What Radosh refers to as “so-called social issues” had almost nothing to do with how the campaign played out in the eyes of the voters.

Hoffman personally emphasized the reckless deficit spending of “the Pelosi agenda in Washington,” focusing on the debt that would be left for “our children and grandchildren” to repay, and forcefully stating his opposition to the pending healthcare legislation. The most effective TV commercials for Hoffman were his own campaign’s positive “Fight Back” ad, and the Club For Growth’s ad presenting Hoffman as the “common sense choice” versus Owens and Scozzafava, who were portrayed as indistinguishably liberal. Democrats countered by saturating the airwaves with TV ads that presented Hoffman as a greedy rich guy who wanted to ship jobs overseas to China and India.

Where did Radosh get his mistaken ideas about the nature of the NY23 campaign? Apparently from liberal media, including an article he cites by John B. Judis of the New Republic:

In New York-23, a diehard conservative backed by rightwing groups repudiated the center and lost to a neophyte Democratic candidate who probably could not have beaten Scozzafava in a one-to-one contest.

Again, we see the assertion that Hoffman was some sort of fanatical right-winger, as if opposing massive deficits and ObamaCare were tantamount to “repudiat[ing] the center.”

Trying to frame the outcome in NY23 in this manner utterly overlooks the reality of what actually happened. First of all, a cabal of GOP insiders hand-picked Scozzafava from a field of nine candidates, despite the warning of Conservative Party leader Mike Long that Scozzafava — due to her ties to the ACORN-connected Working Families Party and her extremely liberal record in the state assembly — was the only one of the nine candidates who would not be carried on the Conservative line. Second, the national GOP stubbornly backed Scozzafava (to the tune of nearly $1 million) long after it became obvious that she was headed for a third-place finish.

Third and most importantly, because of the candidate’s low name-recognition and the compressed nine-week time-frame of the campaign, the Hoffman campaign had serious fund-raising issues. By the first week of October, the campaign was nearly broke, which hobbled the ability of Hoffman’s team to open satellite offices, canvass precincts, etc. It wasn’t until the second and third weeks of October that Hoffman finally began to get national media coverage (thanks in no small party to a big push from conservative bloggers) which boosted his fundraising. Had that money surge — including the $116,000 in online donations on Oct. 22, when Sarah Palin endorsed Hoffman — arrived two or three weeks earlier, it would have made an enormous difference.

The outcome in NY23 was largely a matter of campaign mechanics that had nothing to do with Hoffman being “far right” or inordinately emphasizing social issues. Liberals would very much like Republicans to believe the Radosh/Judis interpretation — “Those Tea Party wingnuts can’t win!” — which is why it’s important for Republicans to ignore the liberal spin and focus on the facts. Doug Hoffman was (and is) a mainstream conservative Republican, and the attempt to paint him as “far right” has been allowed to go unrebutted for too long.