The race in New York’s 23rd Congressional District has turned into nothing less than a passion play for many of the election’s liberal observers: Moderate Republican gets martyred by an insurgent grass-roots base purging members who don’t meet the conservative purity test. When the news broke about Republican Dede Scozzafava’s withdrawal from the race, Redstate.com’s Erick Erickson exulted: “I said this was our hill to die on, but to paraphrase Patton, we won my [sic] making the other guys die on our Hill!”
There’s no doubt that candidate Doug Hoffman fits the mold of a tea party-friendly conservative, railing against tax increases, the stimulus, abortion, health-care reform, and gay marriage. But while the race has served as the perfect stage for high-voltage conservative leaders (with matching campaign funds) to swoop in, there’s also an underlying disjuncture between the national movement and the local electorate -- one that may point to some of the potential limits of the tea-party revolution.
Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver points out that despite the love that Hoffman has received from the right, there’s a distinct enthusiasm gap between the national and local grass-roots -- at least in terms of how much money they’re willing to put on the table. While Hoffman enjoyed a last-minute fundraising surge from national conservative PACs, raising over $200,000 in one week last month, the amount of local contributions has been puny. According to Silver’s rough calculations, Hoffman’s itemized contributions from within the district totaled only $12,610 through Oct. 15. Meanwhile, Democrat Bill Owens raised some $151,520 -- over 10 times as much. The huge gap suggest that the ideological makeup of the district doesn’t match the national enthusiasm for the race. After all, even New York’s own conservative party hasn’t always conformed to Glenn Beck’s ideological proclivities, having backed George Pataki’s gubernatorial candidacy in 1998 and 2002, despite the moderate Republican’s pro-choice views.
Of course, the unusual circumstances, endorsements, and national money could end up putting Hoffman over the top tomorrow, potentially growing the coffers of similar candidates within the next year. But it’s also quite possible that that the local-national disjuncture could catch up to the Republicans if they decide to take NY-23 as a sign that they should push hard to recruit and fund more conservative, tea-party-friendly candidates across the board, without connecting to the local electorate. Without reconciling the national grass-roots fervor with the voters on the ground, the GOP could conceivably overestimate how red some swing-districts are really leaning and how far it can stretch campaign dollars to fill in the enthusiasm gap.