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Keys to Conservative Success Found in NY-23 Loss

Will making spending and budget issues paramount — rather than abortion and gay marriage — bring Republicans back at the polls?

by
Lorie Byrd

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November 6, 2009 - 12:00 am
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The big topic of discussion this week is the role conservatism played in the wins in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere, as well as in the loss of New York’s 23rd congressional district. Recent polls show that many more Americans self-identify as conservative than liberal, so it should not be terribly surprising that so many conservative candidates won Tuesday. It should not even be terribly surprising that some won big.

Though if that is the case, what is the explanation for Doug Hoffman’s loss in New York? There are many possible reasons — including the spectacle that the race turned into with Dede Scozzafava dropping out at the last minute and endorsing the Democrat — but one possibility proposed by Roger L. Simon and others is sure to be much discussed over the coming year.

Simon wrote that social conservatism was in part to blame:

America is a fiscally conservative country — now perhaps more than ever, and with much justification — but not a socially conservative one. No, I don’t mean to say it’s socially liberal. It’s not. It’s socially laissez-faire (just as its mostly fiscally laissez-faire). Whether we’re pro-choice, pro-life or whatever we are, most of us want the government out of our bedrooms, just as we want it out of our wallets.

I don’t believe the fact that Hoffman is a social conservative was the reason for his loss, but when it comes to priorities, Simon makes a point worth considering:

Hoffman’s capital “C” Conservative campaign tried to separate itself from the majority parties by making a big deal of the social issues. He was all upset that Scozzafava was pro-gay marriage, seemingly as upset as he was with her support for the stimulus plan.

The majority of Americans are conservative — not just on matters of fiscal policy, but also on many social issues. After all, in the last presidential campaign Barack Obama himself said he was against gay marriage. And increasingly — in part due to advances in ultrasound technology — Americans are moving farther from the pro-choice position, especially when late-term abortions are the issue. Earlier this year, Gallup found a majority of U.S. adults  identifying themselves as pro-life for the first time since they began asking the question in 1995.

The problem was not that the positions held by Hoffman were too extreme or too socially conservative. However, there may have been a problem with the emphasis put on those issues.

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