Political junkies across the nation are fixated on a once-obscure special election race for a House seat in New York, where Republican presidential hopefuls have interjected themselves into the campaign in a bid to purge a GOP moderate.
As Republicans struggle to remain politically relevant outside the South, the fight reflects a widening battle for the soul of the party between talk radio Tea Bag activists and GOP Beltway establishment types. That feud is mirrored in California, where Republican primary campaigns for governor and Senate shape up as contests to lay claim to the red meat voter bloc and its mantle of conservative populism.
In New York, Presidential wannabes Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty have all jumped into the 23rd District special election, endorsing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over the Republican nominee, state representative Dede Scozzafava. Scozzafava (common spelling) is a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage moderate with ties to labor, who is backed by the House GOP leadership, the National Republican Congressional Committee and Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker, who also is toying with a possible 2012 bid for president, has loudly warned that the push for Hoffman by prominent Republicans could hand the longtime GOP seat to Democrat Bill Owens.
“This underscores a major issue the party is facing – how to win general elections, when the primaries are getting more and more conservative,” Republican consultant Carl Forti told Politico’s Alex Isenstadt. “The primary winners are often too right-wing to win a general election. This trend can’t continue if the GOP hopes to become a majority party again.”
Although the trend is more muted in California, the dominance of GOP primaries by right-wing conservatives is clearly visible in the nomination fight for governor. Coupled with the political energy released by anti-tax Tea Bag rallies and anti-Obama death panel town hall meetings, plus the daily exhortations of gasbags Limbaugh and Beck, it is already defining the Republican Senate campaign to choose a challenger to Democrat incumbent Barbara Boxer.
Orange County GOP Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a favorite of grassroots conservatives (and who, incidentally, has endorsed Doug Hoffman in New York’s special election) for months has been bashing ex-Silicon Valley CEO Carly Fiorina, who’s won early backing from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, portraying her as a pro-tax, pro-stimulus squish whose ideological credentials are suspect at best, as in this telling bit from a recent post on his web site:
“The difference between DeVore’s support and Fiorina’s is the difference between a strong, deep, and growing movement — and a shallow, media-driven, and purchased ephemera. As this campaign continues, Republicans interested in defeating Barbara Boxer will find the choice between the two increasingly easy.”
Confounding early conventional wisdom, DeVore and Fiorina were tied in a recent Field Poll; he argues that the survey proves she has no appeal to conservative Republicans; her supporters claim the finding simply reflects the fact that she hasn’t started to campaign yet, a point which DeVore counter-punches by assailing iCarly for not having the stones to show up at Tea Bag rallies and other venues on his turf.
(Slight digression: shamefully enabled by the MSM, the Fiorina camp ridiculously keeps trying to build suspense over her impending candidacy by peddling fairy dust stories about a mysterious “big announcement” she plans to make on Nov. 6; Calbuzz sez: enough already with the cheesy, hide-the-sausage play).
The Republican purge-the-infidels dynamic is more nuanced in the governor’s race, simply because there’s no right-winger running, just three pro-choice moderates, two of whom are trying to win grassroots hearts and minds by donning the trappings of true blue conservatism like a Halloween get-up.
Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is channeling loopy Republican anti-tax hero Arthur Laffer, by promoting a hyper-conservative slash-taxes-and-spending program, while making the rounds of nutball talk radio to cozy up to right-wing yakkers and trying to finesse his pro-choice stance on abortion.
Front-runner Meg Whitman meantime plays to the right-wing crowd by righteously thundering “let them eat cake,” as she threatens to toss tens of thousands of state employees on the trash heap, vows to roll back California’s environmental protections to the smokestack era, and hints that state prison inmates should be reduced to bread and water rations.
Former congressman and lifelong moderate Tom Campbell is the only one of the three who isn’t pandering 24/7 to the right-wing, which is why his chances of capturing the Republican nomination are only slightly better than those of the Dodgers winning the World Series.
Sacramento talk show host and blogger Eric Hogue, a favorite of the GOP peasants-with-pitchforks brigade, is a pretty good barometer of grassroots conservative sentiment in the state, and of the anxiety that hardliners feel about not having one of their own in the race.
In recent days, Hogue has been agonizing over the relative pros and cons of pretenders Poizner and Whitman, and this week finally turned his attention to Campbell in a column that is instructive about the notions behind the purge-the-moderates movement. While praising Campbell’s experience, character and “engaging, classy personality,” Hogue hammers him for multiple sins of holding heretical views, with the zest of Torquemada. Some excerpts:
“But the glaring weaknesses for Tom Campbell are his egregious violations on social issues and an occasional fiscal walk off the conservative spread sheet.”
“Once again crossing over to the surreal side of the social aisle, Campbell would also support the merits of the environmentalists’ global warming worshipping AB-32, as he is also a strict conservationist.”
“At the end of the day, Tom Campbell is seen by many as a “somewhat- fiscal-conservative”, but an extremely social moderate, at times bordering on being a true centrist.”
The horror! The horror!