Political zoologists have been fretting for some time over the fate of the vanishing sub-species of Northeastern Republican Politicians. (NERPs) In New England, pandas and spotted owls snicker at GOP senators, who number only four today, and Republican House members went extinct several years ago.
This year, however, new breeds of conservationists — primarily found in tea parties — are seeking to reintroduce these endangered creatures back into their natural habitats.
I’ve gotten a firsthand look at these efforts while working full time on a New York Republican’s congressional campaign and coordinating with staffers engaged in the same task in other districts. What some observers seem to find more remarkable than anything else is that a tea party movement in the Northeast even exists. Most contemporary media depictions tend to portray the tea parties as a traditional, conservative Republican phenomenon fitting most comfortably in the Deep South or Mountain West.
But here in upstate New York we have been contacted by no less than nine individual tea parties and related constitutional restoration groups in the 22nd district alone. We even located one thriving membership in Ithaca, New York. This was particularly shocking, given that Ithaca is virtually indistinguishable from most of San Francisco except for the snow during the winter months. Similar activity is being reported across the rest of the state and the entire Northeast.
They hold meetings and rallies, write letters to the editor, and show up outside the offices of elected officials to voice their displeasure. Organizers have already been hosting “meet the candidates” forums where voters can get a firsthand look at political hopefuls and pepper them with questions. Most importantly, though, they are turning up the volume to the point where citizens are paying attention during a midterm election year which normally sees more apathy than activism.
Is it having any effect? We won’t know for sure, of course, until after the November elections, but the early signs are promising. During a recent meeting, Ed Cox — top dog in the New York Republican Party — told us that one of their biggest challenges was identifying all of the congressional races where scarce resources should be allocated. The party is suffering from an embarrassment of riches in terms of potential turnover in NY congressional seats, with as many as seven of them definitely in play. The biggest disappointment for me was the failure of a top-tier candidate to challenge Senator Kirsten Gillibrand — a seat which looks ripe for the picking.
Across the rest of the Northeast similar stories are unfolding. Democrat-held House seats in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island are shivering under the impact of grassroots movements, leading some analysts to speculate that the Republicans’ biggest gains this fall may well come from this recently blue region.
Change comes more slowly in the Senate, but the news there is looking up for the GOP as well. Even if Democrats in the Empire State holds on to both spots, the four Republican senators’ offices from New England are all looking fairly secure and some of the other races are showing signs of life. Back in February I looked over the Connecticut election and found Linda McMahon’s campaign to be rather lackluster. Since that time, however, she has shaken off some rather nasty press involving steroid investigations during her WWE days and taken what appears to be a fairly solid lead among her GOP rivals in the primary battle. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Democrat Richard Blumenthal is still leading her 52-39 in the most recent poll. But there’s a lot of race left to run and who knows what tomorrow’s headlines will bring?
But the real story in the Northeast doesn’t seem to be the possibility of some number of House and Senate seats changing hands. That happens every generation. The juice in this fruit is the bottom-up fashion in which it’s happening. Most of these races are not getting plastered across the media in expensive, traditional fashion. Fundraising, while showing some promising signs for a few candidates, remains tough in a moribund economy. The real work is being done by groups of fed-up voters who are looking for a different kind of “change” than they received in 2008.
We went through a period of time where there were widespread calls to “purge the RINOs” from the party. (And to be sure, there’s still plenty of that going on.) But Scott Brown is hardly what one would call a doctrinaire, bible-belt conservative and he seems to have found a place at the table. Will the NERPs take the place of the RINOs and be a bit more popular? If so, just remember: they did it without the benefit of a single advertisement from PETA.