Scozzafava Struggles for Conservative Support in NY23

In the closing days of special election season, eyes across the nation have turned to the normally sleepy New York 23rd and the curious trajectory of Republican hopes to hold on to a seat they’ve kept almost continually since the 19th century. (Yes, there actually are Republicans in New York, but most of you just couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup.) Dede Scozzafava -- currently in a race for her life with Democrat Bill Owen -- seems on course to either give up the seat or, in the opinion of some, change the flavor of it entirely.

Today we shall examine how the contest arrived at this sorry state of affairs, but first a few words are in order about the district itself. The 23rd is yet another of the Empire State’s bizarrely gerrymandered divisions which could have been cut straight out of an M.C. Escher drawing.

A quick look at the map will reveal how it intentionally dodges the urban strongholds of Syracuse, Utica, and Schenectady, spreading out along the Canadian and Vermont borders. This is some of the most rural real estate in New York, and my family has long maintained a cabin deep in the mountain regions of the district. The people up there tend to be considerably more conservative than one typically thinks of in New York, and they are used to stocking up canned goods and other supplies before winter sets in. (You never know how long it will be before you’ll be able to make it to anything approximating a store during some months.)

However, even with this as a given, observers in other parts of the country should not confuse “conservatives” here with the Republicans you find in the south. This is still New York, after all, and as I previously pointed out in these pages, voters have failed to fall very deeply in love with the GOP even as they grow more and more disenchanted with the Obama administration. While Republicans hold a mild advantage on the generic ballot, the residents of the 23rd show a wildly independent streak and the president won handily here with 52 percent of the vote. Since 2004, nothing in New York is to be taken for granted by anyone with an “R” after their name.

The original nomination of Ms. Scozzafava came about as most such matters are handled anywhere to the north and west of the Big Apple. The local power brokers made their decision, quietly called in the muscle of the Hudson Valley old money families, and the deal was done before anyone could be bothered to raise a fuss. This particular selection, however, began raising eyebrows immediately, sending conservative blogger Michelle Malkin into apoplectic fits where she labeled the candidate “an ACORN-friendly, union-pandering, tax-and-spend radical Republican.”

Granted, Dede gives the appearance of being a bit to the left of even traditionally RINO-leaning New York Republicans. She’s moderately pro-choice (yes, there is such a thing), being a supporter of Roe v. Wade while allowing for reasonable restrictions on the practice, and has voiced support for gay rights. She’s also married to a union organizer and has given a thumbs-up to card check.