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New York State Race a Showdown for GOP, Democrats

November 2, 2009 at 6:16 PM EST
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The race for New York's 23rd Congressional District is offering a glimpse of where the political parties stand in voters minds in an off year.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: But it’s Election Day tomorrow, and a few key contests could end up saying a lot.

Judy Woodruff has the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Until recently, the main focus of the handful of 2009 so-called off-year elections has been on the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. The New Jersey contest is a three-way battle between the incumbent Democrat, Jon Corzine, Republican Chris Christie, and Independent Christopher Daggett. The latest polls show Corzine and Christie running almost even, with Daggett trailing well behind.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: How it’s going, New Jersey?

JUDY WOODRUFF: In a sign of the contest’s national importance, President Obama made his third trip to New Jersey this weekend on behalf of Corzine.

BARACK OBAMA: Your voice will get Jon Corzine four more years as governor of New Jersey.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Virginia, meanwhile, Republican Bob McDonnell threatens to take the governorship away from the Democrats. Most polls there show him with a double-digit advantage over Creigh Deeds.

But, at the 11th hour, a third contest has catapulted to the front of the political scene. Republican Dede Scozzafava’s surprise Saturday withdrawal from the race for New York’s 23rd Congressional District put the spotlight on the rift between the moderate and conservative factions of the Republican Party.

That divide became all the more apparent yesterday, when Scozzafava, a moderate who supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage, endorsed her Democratic opponent, Bill Owens, instead of fellow Republican Doug Hoffman, who is running as the Conservative Party candidate.

At a campaign rally over the weekend, Hoffman said what was happening in the New York 23rd was the Republican Party coming back to life.

Rebirth of the GOP

Amy Walter
Editor, The National Journal's Hotline
There were elements of the Republican Party that decided: We would rather have no Republican than have a Republican who was pro-gay marriage and pro-choice and pro-stimulus and supportive of a lot of labor's issues.

DOUG HOFFMAN: I think that what you're seeing here today, is the rebirth of getting the Republicans back to where we were and getting a new type of Republican going forward that is going to rebuild the party and make the party very strong in the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, national Republican leaders said that Scozzafava's decision to bow out should not be seen by moderates as a sign that they are no longer welcome in the party.

House Minority Leader John Boehner on CNN yesterday.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, house minority leader: We accept moderates in our party and we want moderates in our party. We cover a wide range of Americans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Amy Walter, editor of The National Journal's Hotline, says national Republicans were divided.

AMY WALTER: There were elements of the Republican Party that decided: We would rather have no Republican than have a Republican who was pro-gay marriage and pro-choice and pro-stimulus and supportive of a lot of labor's issues. So, that, to us, is not a win, said these conservatives.

There are Republican political strategists who would say to you: Look, a win is a win is a win. It doesn't matter if it comes in the package of Doug Hoffman or Dede Scozzafava.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats, meanwhile, have looked to capitalize on the situation, charging, the Republican Party is too closely wedded to its conservative base.

Vice President Joe Biden hit on exactly that point this morning at a campaign rally with Democratic candidate Bill Owens.

Bipartisan tone for Democrats

Vice President Joe Biden
You know, they may not have any room for moderate views in the Republican Party upstate anymore, but let me assure you, we have room.

JOSEPH BIDEN, vice president, United States: They made it clear up here they would not accommodate any differing views. They made it clear they would not accept any range of views, even with their own party -- within their own party.

You know, they may not have any room for moderate views in the Republican Party upstate anymore, but let me assure you, we have room. We have room.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For his part, Owens too struck a bipartisan tone.

BILL OWENS, D-NY: I'm going to work with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to find common ground and push for solutions to address the challenges that we face, with the best interests of Upstate New York in mind always.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Going forward, Amy Walter says this race could be a test for both parties in next year's elections, in particularly for the GOP of how much of a liability its internal divisions really are.

AMY WALTER: For the Republican Party, here is the question. They're already -- they have very low approval ratings, very high disapproval ratings. Now we have the national focus on the fact that they seem divided internally about where they should go next.

But if they still win this seat, with all of those things going against them, I think it also suggests that the national numbers don't matter as much when it comes down to the actual vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, she says, it may also be a test for the Democrats, to show that a congressional candidate who supports President Obama's agenda can win.

GWEN IFILL: Our Patchwork Nation page has more about what the New York contest might mean for Republicans. Find a guide to that and other off-year races on our Web site NewsHour.PBS.org.