Return of the Northeastern RINOs

Now that the tidal wave/tsunami/earthquake of Nov. 2 has finished rolling across the political landscape, we find ourselves with the opportunity to focus in on the aftermath, particularly in my favorite area, the Northeast. The Grand Old Party made some truly historic gains in seizing control of the House and picked up some impressive real estate in the Senate as well, but I can assure you that it didn’t happen entirely on backs of hard-core, “three legs of the stool” conservatives.

In February of this year, in this very space, I took a look ahead at what November might hold for Republicans in this part of the country and whether or not a significant rebound could take place for the GOP without letting go of that whole “purge the RINOs” mentality. With a couple of glaring exceptions, I didn’t do too badly at prognosticating.

On the Senate side, we assumed that the GOP would hang on to Judd Gregg’s old seat in New Hampshire, and Kelly Ayotte did so with a nearly two to one margin. Richard Blumenthal was probably never in any serious danger of losing in Connecticut, and as predicted he defeated Linda McMahon in double digits, despite her running a very spirited campaign and spending a hefty chunk of her considerable fortune. Other Senate seats, such as both in New York, were never really in play after the state party failed to coax any of the big ticket names off the bench.

The one shocker -- and great news for Republicans -- came in Pennsylvania, where I had predicted that the moderate swing voters would find Pat Toomey too conservative for their tastes, but he’s on his way to the upper chamber now. Of course, he may have been aided a bit by the turmoil surrounding Joe Sestak having to win a primary against Arlen Specter, who was a Republican, a Democrat, and for all I know had briefly filed on the Rent is Too Damn High Party line. Even so, Toomey squeaked out a 51-49 nail biter, telling me that Pennsylvania is still far more purple than either red or blue and will bear watching in the future.

The races in the House of Representatives were far more intriguing to me. As foretold, Republicans snapped up both of the seats in New Hampshire and did a fine job of retaking four spots in Pennsylvania. New York was the real story for me, though, and not just because I call the Empire State home. As I wrote here back in May of 2009, the herd of New York Republicans had been thinned down to a scant three seats out of our 29 districts, and African white rhinos were laughing at the GOP’s survival chances here. By October, New York Chairman Ed Cox was predicting that his party could claim as many as ten wins here to be seated in the 112th Congress. We wound up getting four. So what happened?

Well, New York is still a predominantly Democratic state, gerrymandered to keep it that way, and even with rising unemployment and a disastrous budget situation in Albany, wins by Republicans are still hard to come by. The four GOP takeovers all came in the upstate region, with candidates who will probably not fit the ideal mold for some textbook conservatives in other parts of the nation.

In the 19th District, Nan Hayworth managed to unseat Representative John Hall, but her conservative bona fides had been challenged by more than a few activists, particularly among the tea party. My friend Raquel Okyay made a point of highlighting some of these complaints, including the fact that the candidate’s husband is a physician who practices at facilities which provide, shall we say, “women’s services.” This doesn’t mean that Nan won’t be a great addition to the Republican caucus, but she might not be pleasing to the entire rank and file at a conservative convention.