October 20, 2009
4:00 pm EDT
Based on new information, the first round ballot information presented on page 2 should be corrected in two places:
(1) Lewis County Chairman Sam Villanti cast his first round vote for Dede Scozzafava, not Matt Doheny. (2) The Madison County weighted percentage was 9%, not 11%.
October 19, 2009
by Michael Patrick Leahy
6:00 am EDT
When John McHugh, Republican Congressman from New York’s 23rd District,
accepted President Obama’s nomination to become the Secretary of the Army on
June 2, no one could have predicted that less than three weeks before the
special election to replace him on November 3 a Democrat would be leading in
the polls. But that’s exactly what has happened. A Siena Institute Poll
released on October 15 shows Democrat Bill Owens leading in this rural
upstate district with 33
% of the vote, followed by Republican Dede Scozzafava with 29%, and
Conservative Doug Hoffman with 23%. If Owens wins in November 3 it will mark
the first time a Democrat has represented the district since the Civil War.
This debacle has occurred despite the most open and transparent process for
the selection of a Congressional candidate in a special election in the
history of the New York State Republican Party. The nomination of Scozzafava
was orchestrated by two powerful liberal members of the local Republican
Party organization, and was aided and abetted by several politically
inexperienced local county leaders who failed to grasp the tactical
significance of shunning the Conservative Party and did not fully understand
the details of their nominee’s record, or her potential vulnerabilities.
On July 22nd, the Republican Party nominated Scozzafava, an Assemblywoman
whose liberal views on many issues do not reflect the views of the majority
of the district’s Republicans. This nomination was tainted by a breach of
trust carried out by a key party insider, liberal Republican Assemblywoman
Janet Duprey, who also serves as the chairman of the Clinton County
When McHugh made his announcement, the eleven Republican county chairmen in the 23rd Congressional District were faced with a special challenge.
What process would they use to fairly select a nominee to run for his empty seat, and how much time did they have to do it? State law
allowed the Governor to establish the date of a special election. No one
knew when that would be, though many suspected it would be on the November 3
date the governor ultimately chose. McHugh wouldn’t resign his seat until
confirmed by Congress, and no one knew for sure how long that process would
Jim Ellis, Franklin County Chairman, decided to take the lead and
propose a process for selecting a candidate. He had the recent NY 20
election as an example (where county chairmen without a lot of input chose
Jim Tedisco, who lost a special election), and thought he had a way to do it
The idea was to open up the process. It wasn't as open as a tea party, perhaps, but it was far more open than
anything the New York State Republican Party (or the New York State Democratic Party) had ever seen in similiar circumstances. Four regional meetings would be held for
invited attendees, which included committeemen on the local county committee, local Republican
officials, and state party officials who resided in the county. Any candidate who wanted to address the group could do so.
Let them say their piece, get a consensus,
communicate that consensus to the party chairmen, then let the party
chairmen convene and select the nominee, based on a majority vote. Each
county chairman received a weighted vote based on the percentage of the district’s
Republicans who resided in their district. Franklin County, for
instance, received a 6% weighted vote, while more populous Oswego County
received a 19% weighted vote.
All five of the county chairmen interviewed for this article consider this "openness" to be a signal accomplishment, though several expressed the opinion that despite the "openness", the outcome did not reflect the will of the majority of the Republicans in the district.
It's perhaps an insight into the "group think" of the Republican Establishment in New York State that in the age of the Tea Party Movement not a single county chairman considered an obvious process that would have been far more inclusive and would not have created the public impression that the nomination was obtained based on insider dealing. An Iowa style caucus, in which all registered Republicans in the district were invited to participate, instead of invitation only candidate forums made available exclusively to the regular participants in Republican Party politics would certainly have resulted in a process that was not vulnerable to claims of breach of trust or cronyism. And in all likelihood that process would have resulted in a nominee who enjoyed the support of both the Republican and the Conservative parties.
According to New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, it is this insular and myopic view of the world which characterizes the history and behavior of the Republican Party in New York State, and continues to fuel the existence and growth of the Conservative Party. In an exclusive interview with The TCOT Report, Long put it this way:
"I hear this all the time from politicians from the Republican Party who come to us to receive the endorsement of the Conservative Party as well. When they go before the Republicans, they say, all they hear is things like 'who are your friends', 'how much money can you bring to the table,' and 'what other resources can you bring so we know you can win.' They're just never asked by the Republican leadership their position on the issues. When they come to us, it's always about where they stand on the issues."
Long is a man to whom political positions matter greatly. "The only reason the Conservative Party exists," he said "is that the Republican Party in this state cares only about winning, and not about principle." His withdrawal of the Conservative Party line endorsement from Assemblywoman Scozzafavva in her 2004, 2006, and 2008 races is a clear example of this commitment to principle.
First elected to serve in the Assembly to represent St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties in 1998, Scozzafava's increasingly leftward voting trend concerned Long greatly. When in 2004 Scozzafavva sought out and accepted the endorsement of the ACORN affilliated Working Families Party, Long had seen and heard enough. He withdrew the Conservative Party's endorsement from her, and vowed to never support her again in any election.
"The Working Families Party is nothing but a front group for ACORN. For goodness sake, they office out of the same building in Brooklyn !"
"Scozzafavva is pro gay-marriage, pro abortion, and supported by an ACORN affiliated and directed political party. All three of these disqualify her from receiving our support. I've told Dede this, and every Republican leader in the 23rd Congressional District knows this. I'll give you a couple of other examples of how bad her record of liberal activism is. In this most recent session of the Assembly, on the votes she cast in the Assembly, we gave her a 15% rating. The very liberal Speaker of the Assembly, who comes from the most liberal part of Manhattan has a 10% rating. She's hardly any different from him!"
New York is one of the few states where minor parties can play a role in election outcomes.
This is due to a peculiarity of New York election law, which allows vote totals from two different party endorsements to be added cumulatively to a candidate's total.
The Conservative Parties is the most prominent minority party in the state, but other fringe parties, such as the Working Families Party, can also play a role in elections.
In contested elections in swing districts, these minor party endorsements matter.
The extra 5% or 10% from a Conservative line on the ballot for the same candidate can push that candidate's vote total from a losing 41% or 46% to a winning 51%.
Reports of Scozzafava's recent statements on switching parties didn't help public perceptions of her either.
Something happened on a vote, the report goes, and she got mad, publicly threatening to switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. Scozzafava quickly retracted her party switch threat, but the damage was done. Rumors abound that should she win the special election as a Republican she might switch to the Democratic party in the 2010 election, especially since she is certain to face Republican primary opposition should she win. Last week, the Weekly Standard ran a story which stated that she would not confirm she would run in 2010 as a Republican. Hours after the story was posted, her campaign spokesman stated that she would, indeed run as a Republican in 2010 should she win, but the candidate herself has not yet made such a public statement.
Conservative Party Chairman Long recounts a stunning meeting he had with Scozzafava in July of this year, after she had announced her candidacy, but before she had received the nomination.
"I was approached by someone in Dede Scozzafava's sphere who said she wanted to meet with me. I said this is going nowhere, but they persisted, so I agreed to meet with Dede in Lake Placid.
At the meeting, which took place just a few weeks before the Republican County Chairmen met in Potsdam to select their nominee, she told me that the Democrats had been talking to her about running in the special election as a Democrat.
'Wouldn't you rather be with the winner?' she asked me. I came away from that meeting convinced that she was completely devoid of any principle."
Republican committee men from three counties (Clinton, Essex, and Franklin)
met in Plattsburgh, New York on July 16th to hear from the nine candidates
seeking the nomination. Earlier, three other candidate forums had been conducted
throughout the district, one in Speculator (for Fulton and Hamilton
counties), one in Governeur (for St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Jefferson
counties), and one in Sylvan Beach (for Oneida, Oswego, and Madison
Counties). Each meeting was
held with good participation, and attendance ranged from 50 to over 100.
After the July 16th candidate forum in Plattsburgh, the clear consensus from
Clinton County committee members in attendance was in support of Paul
Maroun, the ideologically conservative candidate with a long record of local
government service from nearby Franklin County. Assemblywoman Duprey herself acknowledges
“The Clinton County committee members who attended the Plattsburgh event
voted for the candidate they supported. Paul Maroun received the majority of
the votes. Dede and Matt Doheny also received some votes.”
Doheny was a Jefferson County native who had worked on Wall Street for
awhile before returning home, was an Alleghany College and Cornell Law School
grad who was as ideologically conservative as Maroun with one major
exception. Maroun was pro-life, and Doheny was pro-abortion.
Unlike her fellow county chairmen in Jefferson and St. Lawrence County who
communicated with every committee member in their respective counties,
including those who did not attend the regional candidate forums as well as
those that did, Duprey took no further steps to ascertain the candidate
support preference of those Clinton County committee members who did not
attend the Plattsburgh candidate forum.
In Jefferson County, Chairman Sandra Corey sent ballots by mail to the 180 committee men that comprise the County Committee.
She received back 130 responses, the majority of which were cast in favor of Dede Scozzafava, with local candidate Matt Doheny also receiving a good number of votes. In St. Lawrence County, Chairman Nancy Martin personally phoned every single committee member, and received a majority response in favor of local candidate Scozzafava.
Return to The TCOT Report