NY-23 doesn’t mean anything for 2010, even if Republicans win tonight

(Update I)

I’ve spoken with a number of delusional conservatives over the past two weeks that seem to think another wave election is coming late next year – one for them, obviously — which will usher in a Republican takeover of the House, which they lost control over just three years ago as a result of mismanaging this country in historically bad ways.

For context on just how badly Republicans screwed up in the eyes of the American public, Democrats had previously controlled the House of Representatives for forty years before coughing it up under Clinton. The GOP then held a majority for just a quarter of that time before the House flipped solidly back into Democratic hands, along with the Senate, and then the White House as well.

In addition to Democrats already holding a majority of governorships and state legislatures, too.

Center-left nation, anyone?


And despite all-time historically low job approval ratings and party identification – the later of which hasn’t been this low at any point in the last quarter century – conservatives expect to ride the high horse back into Washington, posing as America’s saviors to the problems that they themselves created.

As laughable as that is, what’s even more amusing is the idea that a Republican win in New York’s 23rd district tonight signals the inevitability of The Resurgence. NY-23 is an open seat because it was vacated mid-term by Republican John McHugh, who won reelection last year by 65% even as his district went for Barack Obama (PVI of R+1 makes it slightly right-leaning). McHugh was in his fourth term, holding it since 2002, taking over for Republican Sherwood Boehlert who held the seat since 1993.

What you’ve got here is a seat lost during the last real Republican wave in the early 90s that has been held by a Republican ever since, a span of 16 years.

It’s easy to ignore history and simply declare a race like this to be a referendum on each political party, but that’s awfully myopic. For Democrat Bill Owens to win this seat would actually be an upset, given its recent history of being a right-leaning district that has been represented by a Republican for nearly two decades. It kind of challenges the notion of a zero-sum game being at play.

If Owens wins, that will be a traditionally red seat flipped blue, actually adding to the Democratic majority in the House just a year away from the mid-term elections that Republicans are hanging their hats on as their New Way Forward. That would be a genuine win for the Democratic party and a genuine loss for Republicans, both in the math, in recent history, and in bruised egos.

However, if Doug Hoffman wins, it doesn’t really mean anything, because this seat was already held by a Republican to begin with, and held by his party generally for some time now. That would be a hold, not a flip, it wouldn’t change the math in the House at all.

That’s actually pretty important to understand because despite the wave elections of 2006 and 2008, there were still substantial numbers of Republicans in the House that were challenged by a Democrat, yet held their ground. Or worse, challenged a Democrat and flipped a seat, something that didn’t happen in 2006 for the first time in history.

There were 199 Republicans in the House before last year’s elections, and just 178 after. Taken in that context, you had 21 Republicans lose their seats to a Democrat while another 178 – challenged or not – either retained their seats even with Barack Obama on the ballot and record turnout, or flipped a blue one.

Five members of the Democratic party lost their seats last year (meaning had all Democrats held on, the net change would have been 31.)

Even when everything went right for the Dems, and everybody knew it was coming, Republicans didn’t lose every single fight. To the contrary, they won the vast majority of them.

Just not enough to prevent losing control.

Is it really any surprise that a Republican is probably going to win in NY-23 tonight, then, a right-leaning district that has been represented by a Republican for 16 straight years?

Not really.

Hoffman could win tonight and end up losing it again in 2010, technically speaking. And even with that win, Republicans will still only hold 178 seats in the House tomorrow, just like they did yesterday, and the day before that.

But if the Democrat wins, reducing Republican ranks to 177 even in what amounts to a weak GOP district in a low-turnout off year – not even a mid-term year – what does that say about GOP prospects overall?

Not much, but what it does say is not good news at all. It doesn’t seem fair and may not sound terribly honest, but there are situations especially in Congressional races where it’s not a zero sum game. A win tonight for a Democrat would mean +1 seats for his party and -1 for the GOP, a substantive pickup that simply buttresses any losses coming in 2010. But a Republican win means only that the status quo is maintained, hardly a sign of strength or resurgence that so many conservatives are desperate for.

And that’s what reactions to tonight’s election will reveal. Celebrations on the right will consist of meek cheers that Republicans haven’t lost yet another seat, that maybe, just maybe, they won’t win a few seats within the margins but make meaningful gains next year. In other words, the sucking sound of desperation.

Update: Apparently the police have been called to multiple locations with reports of Republicans trying to intimidate voters. How much more pathetic can these losers get?

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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