Tuesday, November 03, 2009

District 23 - Politics, Proxies, Predictions.

UPDATED: Friday November 06, 2009
It had to be District "23". This obscure upstate New York Congressional district is getting a lot of national attention, and deservedly so. So many interesting elements - where to begin?
  • The MSM usually describes it as a conservative Republican district (reportedly no Democrat has represented the district since 1859), but OTOH we learn from the same source that the district voted 52-47 for Obama in 2008. 52% - 47% - the exact percentage of the Obama's national popular vote victory - so does that make District 23 a proxy for the national electorate?
  • There were three candidates for the house seat now there are two. The hand-picked Republican machine candidate has dropped out and endorsed the Democrat.
  • On election eve - a third party Conservative candidate is leading the Democrat by 6% points, with 18% undecided. 18% undecided on election eve? Really?? These voters have got to really hate the two choices they have left to still be undecided so late.
  • The results for this district are a referendum on the Obama administration. Or not.
There is enough pontification, broad sweeping conclusions and evolving conventional wisdom in this district to provide fodder for a dozen blog posts.

A few weeks ago, when Democrat Bill Owens took a lead in the (then) three-way race, the NY Times considered the race "pivotal". Now? - not so much:
"It is probably not wise to draw broad lessons from Tuesday’s results about what might happen in next year’s midterm Congressional elections and high-profile governor’s races."
Then, conventional wisdom was that Independent Hoffman and Republican Scozzafava split the conservative vote and opened the door for Owens. More likely, Scozzafava and Owens are so similar politically, that they split the moderate vote and opened the door for Hoffman - the only true fiscal conservative in the race.

Frankly, my libertarianish views are probably more closely aligned with Owens than they are with Hoffman - particularly on social issues. However if I lived there I would have to vote for Hoffman - it is the only way to cast a vote in opposition to the ruinous financial policies of this president. Even if I liked Owen better, he is a Democrat first and would just fall into partisan line on spending, deficits and taxes. We'll see how District 23 feels about it, but (since Nate Silver is reluctant) I can't help but weigh in with a this quick post and a prediction while the votes are being cast -

The combined 24% Scozzafava and undecided vote will - of course - be determinative. I figure it this way - If people are still saying they are undecided at this point - they really really hate the two choices they have left. So... They will either 1) Not vote, or 2) Waste their vote with a protest for Dede - or - hold their nose, flip a coin and cancel themselves out splitting between Hoffman and Owens. Lets say the Dede protest vote drops to 4%, and that leaves 20% to split. If we assume these undecided to be mostly fiscal conservative, I expect that will skew the split to Hoffman. Even if they agree with Owen's socially moderate positions, it'll be too hard for them to pull the trigger for another rubber stamp vote for the reckless and destructive fiscal policies of this president and congress. Owens needed to distance himself from Obama and Pelosi, just like McCain needed to distance himself from Bush. He didn't. Biden's last minute rally didn't help - he most likely reinforced the connection to the insane administration spending.

So I say the 20% remaining undecided splits 11% to Hoffman and 9% to Owens, and my final prediction:
Hoffman (I) 52%
Owens (D) 44%
Scozzofava (R) 4%
I'll update later, with some more thoughts as the votes are counted.

UPDATE: Friday, November 6, 2009

As pointed out by the commentariat, this update is a bit late. The reason is a plumbing catastrophe that is of no interest to the reader but is consuming a large portion of my life. Regardless, as commenter Roy notes, my prognostication skills leave something to be desired. the NY 23 final results:
Candidate Party Votes Pct.
Bill Owens Dem. 66,526 49.0%
Doug Hoffman Con. 62,308 45.9
Dede Scozzafava Rep. 6,986 5.1
As far as my predictions are concerned, I clearly let wishful thinking override my own analysis. In hindsight, it should have been obvious that the independents who were sufficiently concerned about administration spending to overlook Hoffman's positions on social issues and his weakness as a candidate would have already been in Hoffman's poll totals. So it should not have been surprising that the remaining 24% "undecided" and disaffected Scozzafava supporters broke more heavily for Owens. They simply hated Owens less than they hated Hoffman. My bad.

While the election was not predictable, the reactions are. Some on the right are calling this a victory, seemingly ignoring the more conventional definition of victory - you know - getting more votes. Some on the left are positively gleeful describing a social vs. fiscal conservative "civil war" which sound a lot like more wishful thinking. Others offer a bit more thoughtful and circumspect analysis of the win. In general, it seem moderates are satisfied with the result in NY 23. It all still begs the question - Why did Owen win? Commenter Roy has one answer:
"People voted for Owens because of the candidate, the man, and the issues he stands for."
Interesting hypothesis. It could happen I guess. Still... I expect in an election as fractured and close as this one, it is the feet on the ground that make the difference. I understand from an unnamed source that the Dems recruited, relocated and paid top dollar for the best field operatives they could find for this election.

Only battle tested vets from the 2008 Obama campaign were considered for this front line effort. Hard core, hard working, committed mercenaries willing to do the kind of grunt work on the phones and on the street that make the difference in local elections. Democratic congress critters with close 2010 elections in conservative districts would do well to recruit operatives with the 2009 Owens campaign on their resume. A few hundred of these carpetbagging political street fighters will more than cancel out dozens of carpetbagging national political drive-by pundits, politicos, and media windbags.

Other lessons that can be teased out of NY 23:
  • It is still practically impossible for a 3rd party to win an election for federal office.
  • The fusionist social conservative/fiscal conservative alliance is as necessary a condition for GOP electoral victory now as it was in Reagan's era - validating yet again Ryan Sager's thesis from his excellent 2006 book "The Elephant in the Room".
  • Anyone who thinks social conservative issues should take priority over fiscal conservative issues in the next election, are not paying attention.

The Owens victory was important, if for no other reason that it permitted Democrats as well as Republicans to claim victory on Tuesday. What it didn't do, is permit anyone to continue to beat the dead horse that the Obama election represented a transformational permanent realignment in the political landscape.

The final word on the real meaning of Tuesday's election will be spoken - not by the words of pundits or politicians, but by the actions of the blue dog Democrats. Particularly those facing re-election in previously Republican districts in 2010. Dems like the man Fox anchor Neil Cavuto called "the biggest of the blue dogs" - Pennsylvania Representative Jason Altmire. In this recent interview with Cavuto, Altmire very diplomatically explains why he probably won't support Pelosi's health care bill:

CAVUTO: "...if voters and candidates a signal that they have had it it with runaway spending, the runaway beneficiaries could be the very fiscally conservative democratic congressman... you guys were arguing for finding a substantive way to pay for healthcare reform... Now - how crucial was this election."
ALTMIRE: "I'm in the process of going through the bill talking to my constituents and trying to make a determination. To determine if moving the ball forward is the best course of action... I'm not convinced that this bill is it, whether it is substantially different enough that's going to allow me to vote for... I think the discussion on the income tax increase is misguided and misplaced as part of the health care bill. There's no question that they've increased the threshold. They've done the same on the small business aspect. It still takes a punitive approach. It's my opinion if you don't offer health care to your employees as a small business owner, it is not that you don't want to, it's because you can't. And the better approach is to help small businesses afford is not to penalize those that don't. So I do still have some concerns."
Sounds like a "no" vote to me. Let's see how he votes, and for that matter - how Owens votes on the Obamacare bill.

For if there is one thing of which we be certain, it is that predicting anything related to "23" is fraught with uncertainty.


Roy said...

A little slow with the updating, huh? People voted for Owens because of the candidate, the man, and the issues he stands for. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this blog. People need be more decisive and quicker with their voting. I don't think it should take long to decide on a bill personal problems or any other problems shouldn't get in the way of deciding for bills.