Love them or hate them, the modern GOP has a lengthy and complicated relationship with the NERPs (Northeastern Republican Politicians). For much of the modern generation of conservatives, the pesky party members in the upper right (small “r”) corner of the nation have represented everything from a thin margin of victory in the national head count to a constant source of aggravation and angst for their Leftish to libertarian votes. In times of national conservative privation, the Republicans in the northeast seem to fall first, and when the lean season ends they are the last to return. But in recent cycles, they’ve been making something of a comeback.
One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the New York Republican congressional delegation. The population shifts in this particular herd would put the head count of the California condor to shame. In the 108th Congress, during the bad old days of Bill Clinton, New York sent 13 Republicans to the Hill. By the time of the Great Post Obama Extinction Event in 2009, their numbers totaled precisely three. Since that time they’ve managed to double their field strength to six, but not all of the shortcomings have been due to national, fickle tides. One of the classic examples of self-inflicted wounds was seen during 2009’s special election in the North Country, then known as the 23rd District. Dede Scozzafava provided a painful lesson in the midst of what was otherwise a conservative resurgence, and a reliably Right side seat wound up going to the Democrats.
This year the tide seems to be pushing in the GOP’s direction once again. Having been reconfigured as the 21st District following the 2010 census, the North Country appears to be on the verge of electing a thirty-year-old Republican firebrand in the person of Elise Stefanik. (Who will be the youngest woman ever elected to the House. Take THAT, war on women!) And Elise isn’t the only sign of the times in the Empire State. Down in the Democrat Heart of Darkness, Republicans hang on to the 11th Congressional District like grim death. But in this election cycle, that moniker became a bit too prophetic when their representative, Michael Grimm, found himself facing charges ranging from misremembering the filing deadline for many of his tax debts to racketeering. If there were ever a ripe opportunity for the Democrats to shove a foot in the door on Staten Island this was certainly it. And yet, in the current climate, Grimm is still hanging on in the polls. To be sure, a portion of this phenomenon could be attributed to… shall we say, family loyalty. But it also hints that the locals are willing to overlook a lot, rather than offering the Democrats another vote in the lower chamber during Barack Obama’s closing act.
New York hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate since Al D’Amato lost to Chuck Schumer in 1998. Other seats in the region, such as the Class III seat in Connecticut, have witnessed dispendious campaigns by the GOP (see 2010) which could have bankrupted several Central American nations, but produced embarrassing double-digit losses. And yet some other northeastern enclaves have fared better, with additional bright spots on the horizon. One half of the Maine Sisters — Olympia Snowe — has since retired, and the GOP probably misses her more than conservative stalwarts might have thought since they inherited Angus King in her place. But Susan Collins is still hanging in there, and she currently holds a daunting lead over her challenger. Perhaps more amazing is the story currently unfolding in nearby New Hampshire. Scott Brown’s original win in Massachusetts was seen as something of an electoral fluke, and his bona fides as a solid citizen of the Granite State are a bit fluid to say the least. And yet he’s in there swinging with a fighting chance to pull this off next week.
If everything — or even most things — swing the way Republicans would like on November 4th, the GOP stands to experience a minor expansion of their hold on the House and capture a razor-thin majority in the Senate. (If things go south in Kansas, said upper chamber lead could conceivably include Greg Orman, a man so devoted to conservative principles that he’s stated he will caucus with whichever party holds the majority leader’s chair.) If this scenario comes to pass, the Republican power base will once again be beholden, in part, to a group of renegade NERPs who tend to frustrate the conservative base at nearly every turn. They are hesitant to promote American exceptionalism abroad by force of arms and some of them tend towards rather weak-knee positions on gun rights. Nearly to a man — or woman — they aren’t the sort of folks you look to for a vote on most of the social issues. But what will the party do with them in the run-up to the next presidential election cycle?
The NERPs are used to being targets of disdain by movement conservatives. They don’t tend to attract money from national conservative groups and have had to find ways to develop their financing elsewhere. They don’t often receive choice committee assignments out of the gate and none of them expect to be taken seriously in terms of national office aspirations. (With apologies to Chris Christie, who seemingly can expect anything short of the moon and stars.) In short, they’ve been used to being on the short end of the stick from their party.
But the GOP will once again need them on the road to 2016. So, should they expect the usual round of calls for primaries against them in favor of True Conservatives? Or will they be part of the larger team this time? We have a bit less than 24 months to see if we learned any of the lessons from 2006.