While conservatives are adjusting their spin to paint yesterday's loss in NY-23 as a win for the conservative grassroots, the actual outcome was that Republicans lost a vote in Congress. As I noted in my column today, some conservatives are already talking up Eric Wallace, who just dropped out of the Republican primary for the Illinois Senate race in 2010, as a potential independent conservative challenger. This has prompted worries for Mark Kirk, the moderate GOP congressman seen as the front-runner in the race; so many worries that he has contacted Sarah Palin in search of an endorsement:
After noting that Palin will be in Chicago later this month to appear on "Oprah", Kirk writes that "the Chicago media will focus on one key issue: Does Gov[ernor] Palin oppose Congressman Mark Kirk's bid to take the Obama Senate seat for the Republicans?"
Kirk goes on to write that he is hoping for something "quick and decisive" from Palin about the race, perhaps to the effect of: "Voters in Illinois have a key opportunity to take Barack Obama's Senate seat. Congressman Kirk is the lead candidate to do that."
Palin, it appears, has become something of a kingmaker among conservatives (although, to be completely accurate, people in that role typically endorse winning candidates, not losing ones). It will be interesting to see if Palin is pragmatic enough to endorse Kirk, but one thing is clear: Having an independent conservative in the race would make it very difficult for Kirk to win what would otherwise be a very competitive race for him. It's not simply the issue splitting the Republican base. The problem comes with the kind of issues Kirk would be forced to talk about during the race: While cultural issues and fiery rhetoric excite the Glenn Beck crowd, winning campaigns in the last few years have been focused on economic issues and jobs. Just ask incoming Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell or NY-23 Congressman-elect Bill Owens.
"It doesn't make sense to me how you would ever talk about things other than what actually matters to people in the district, but the House Republicans manage to do it every time," one Democratic operative told me as we discussed the NY-23 race this morning. "I was so amused with the debate over the 'heart and soul of the Republican Party.' Could there be anything in the world that the average voter cares about less than the fate of a fucking political party?"
-- Tim Fernholz