There are many reasons for Doug Hoffman losing by four points.
Yes, Hoffman was unknown just a month ago. Yes, Dede Scozzafava and the Watertown Daily Times scared people that Hoffman would not bring home the federal pork. Yes, union backing helped Bill Owens organizationally. Yes, the bizarre machinations in the last days likely caused people to fall back to a name they knew. Yes, the result likely would have been the same or worse if Scozzafava were the sole candidate opposing Owens, so no harm no foul.
Yes, there are many reasons to be hopeful that the Republican Party has learned the correct lesson, which is that candidates who oppose big government policies can be successful if the party is united from the start behind the candidate. Yes, the election will have a positive effect in giving a boost to more conservative candidates around the country, the type of candidates who won in Virginia and New Jersey in huge Republican victories.
Yes, no one could have predicted Republican wins in Virginia and New Jersey just a year ago. Yes, the Obama effect has mostly — but not completely — worn off. Yes, people are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Yes, this does give hopeful signs for 2010. Yes, Virginia and New Jersey show that running on conservative issues is a winner.
None of these reasons makes me feel any better that Doug Hoffman lost.
There are some lessons. First, it is necessary but not sufficient to run against the Obama administration. Obama’s policies are unpopular, but he remains personally popular in one huge national cognitive dissonance. That is changing, but it has not changed enough yet. The victories in Virginia and New Jersey were based on conservative principles.
Second, all politics is local, and Hoffman was not even from the District in which he was running, and had no local connections or local political plan. Owens with help from Scozzafava and union advertising successfully portrayed Hoffman as an outsider. The Republican Party needs to do a better job of finding local candidates who unite the party on winning conservative principles.
Third, do not underestimate the continuing influence of the liberal mainstream media, which is wounded but not dead. Hoffman was portrayed as an “extremist” repeatedly and successfully. The fact that his principles were no different than the candidates in Virginia and New Jersey made no difference. As a relative unknown, it was easier for the mainstream media to craft the extremist image around Hoffman than around more well-known candidates.
Doug Hoffman deserves credit for running a brave race against huge odds, and falling just short. He has done us all a favor.
But a loss in NY-23 is a loss is a loss. And if we are honest with ourselves, it hurts even as we celebrate the results in Virginia and New Jersey.