Last night, New Jersey voted out John Corzine, by 49 percent to 45 percent. In the Commonwealth of Virginia the Republicans captured the statehouse by 17 points. In New York’s state’s Westchester County, voters emphatically rejected incumbent Democratic County Executive, Andy Spano. Spano lost by 16 points to Republican challenger Rob Astorino.
But, in the special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, Democrat Bill Owens captured the seat vacated by Republican John McHugh. Despite a endorsements by The Wall Street Journal, Sarah Palin, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Fred Thompson and George Pataki, the Conservative Party’s candidate Doug Hoffman could not hold on to a traditional Republican seat. Owens won 49.3 percent of the vote, Hoffman garnered 45.2 percent and Dede Scozzafava, a Republican state legislator who suspended her candidacy and backed Owens, still picked up 5.5 percent.
A year earlier, Virginia, New Jersey, Westchester and the 23rd Congressional District voted for Barack Obama. And yet last night, only the 23rd Congressional District cast its lot with the Democrats.
In the final round of pre-election polls, Hoffman was leading. By early Wednesday, Hoffman was delivering a concession speech. Something went very wrong for Hoffman. And what went wrong is a cautionary note as the Republicans head into 2010.
Reality on the ground matters. John McHugh won re-election in 2008 with 65 percent of the vote, while Obama was winning the same district by only 5 percent. In 2000 and 2004 George W. Bush won the district by less than 5 points. Those numbers should have told Hoffman that, yes, the seat was winnable, but that an unalloyed movement conservative message was not necessarily going to be a winner in a general election.