Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 3, 2009

IT PROBABLY WON'T BE A SWEEP.... Someone remind me, why does the special election in New York's 23rd matter infinitely more than the special election in California's 10th, which is also hosting an election today?

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a fixture in state and national politics for 35 years, is expected to maintain the Democratic Party's hold Tuesday on a congressional seat that stretches from the eastern San Francisco Bay area through the California delta.

The special election in California's 10th Congressional District will fill the seat once held by former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a Democrat who was named earlier this year to a State Department position.

Garamendi is running on a progressive platform, vowing to be a close congressional ally of the Obama administration. He's facing Republican David Harmer, the son of former California Lt. Gov. John Harmer, who's basing his campaign on an anti-spending agenda. Garamendi is considered the heavy favorite.

Now, I'll gladly concede that California's 10th doesn't seem nearly as entertaining as New York's 23rd. The latter has featured a competitive, three-way contest, and has become symbolic of the larger Republican struggle between the party establishment and its unhinged, increasingly radical base.

But as a practical matter, California's 10th and New York's 23rd are worth the same thing: a single vote in the U.S. House. Same kind of election, on the same day, with same value. One lacks a cast of wacky characters, but neither is necessarily more important than the other.

I suppose the pushback from most political observers would be, "California's 10th doesn't matter as much since it's a Democrat likely to win in a Democratic district." That's true, but Democrats haven't won in New York's 23rd since the mid-19th century. The last time a Dem won in this district, California had only been in the Union for two years.

One gets the sense that a Doug Hoffman victory in New York's 23rd will signal a national shift of great importance, but a Garamendi victory in California's 10th is a small blip on the radar. That doesn't make sense.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Steve, your are upsetting the Corporate Media 'story lines' in order to manipulate public perception The MEDIA HAS DECIDED where the referendums are ..

Posted by: stormskies on November 3, 2009 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, it does. The story is the relentless marginalization of the republican party which has been captured by and surrendered to the extreme right wing. It epitomizes the death spiral the party is in, even as the MSM will play it as some type of resurgence and rejection of Obama. Because everything is GOOD NEWS for the GOP.

Posted by: Newton Whale on November 3, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Former DNC Chair Howard Dean said on MSNBC this morning that the GOP civil war in the special NY-23 congressional race -- in which moderate GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava dropped out and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens after many prominent Republicans defected and supported Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman -- "has destroyed the Republican Party."

"The real Republican's been driven out of the race and they have somebody from the far right," Dean said.

Posted by: Newton whale on November 3, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Nice set of observations Mr. Benen, but don't forget in politics it's all about the pre-event spin! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 3, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

The story distinguishing the two races is that republicans are supporting an outside candidate against their own (before she pulled out).

Now the former GOP candidate is actively supporting the Dem candidate. The whole scenario beautifully frames how traditional republicans no longer have a place in their own party and are (unfortunately) more closely aligned with Democratic leadership. The handwriting on the wall couldn't be any clearer.

BTW, Garamendi is an excellent candidate and I will be thrilled to see him in the House.

Posted by: bdop4 on November 3, 2009 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

"One gets the sense that a Doug Hoffman victory in New York's 23rd will signal a national shift of great importance, but a Garamendi victory in California's 10th is a small blip on the radar. That doesn't make sense."

The important thing isn't the spin or the pundants telling all of us just what the importance is. What matters is after the story dies down and is replaced by whatever next captures the network programer's attention. We'll have one more unqualified extremist in Congress. That's not a good thing. It begins to add up.

Posted by: SaintZak on November 3, 2009 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

yer last 4 words are teh motto of this country these days...

Posted by: neill on November 3, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Steve: You know damn well why they're treated differently. Enough with the faux innocence, OK?

Posted by: bikelib on November 3, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if Sarah Palin didn't endorse Harmer, then of course, why would the media get involved in CA10? Who cares, if Sarah doesn't?

But seriously, NY23 is a story because of the Repub party blow up/infighting.

Posted by: Hmmmmm on November 3, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm. Let's see. NY-23 has been represented by Republicans for, what, 140 years now? Obviously the election of a Republican to that seat is a seismic shift of momentous proportions on the same level as the Revolution itself.

Surely it's OBVIOUS????

Posted by: zhak on November 3, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

If Hoffman wins, the district will not be represented by the "Republican Party" but by an independent/conservative backed by the far-right. The "Republican Party" candidate withdrew, so if Hoffman wins, it will be a big boost to the tea-baggers, who will see victory in every push against 'moderate' republicans.
In California, the "Democratic Party" candidate is slated to win. No big deal, there.

Posted by: Ronald on November 3, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

"The important thing isn't the spin or the pundants telling all of us just what the importance is. What matters is after the story dies down and is replaced by whatever next captures the network programer's attention" You are right saintzack. It will be Referendum, Faux talking point, referendum, faux talking point for the next three weeks unless a celebrity or someone famous dies . We can only hope .

Posted by: john R on November 3, 2009 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

It might be a more significant race if a bunch of progressives from outside the state had inserted their own, non-resident candidate into the race and succeeded in pushing Garamendi to drop out altogether.

I'm voting for Garamendi in about an hour.

Posted by: CU on November 3, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, you're entirely wrong. What if the country suddenly needs to elect another President, and the race is thrown into the House by the failure of the Electoral College, and in the House the votes are taken by state? What then? The NY delegation, being smaller, will accord more weight to each representative when deciding whom to support. So you can see how this is the absolute nexus of all political power...

Oh, wait. The next presidential election won't occur until after the next session of Congress, so these guys will have been reaffirmed or rejected by their voters in the regular midterm elections? Oh, well, I guess it really doesn't matter.

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on November 3, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

The only thing that a Hoffman victory in NY-23 will demonstrate is that by running a far-right-wing-wacko candidate against a Democrat, Conservatives can win this district that has been solidly Republican since the Civil War by the smallest vote margin in a quarter century.

It's a message that I doubt anyone in the Corporatist Media will even notice.

Posted by: Tom Betz on November 3, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

I predicted this.

When Palin drew bigger crowds than McLiar, mobs of wild-eyed crazies, I predicted then that the Republican party was about to go the way of the Whigs.

Here's the thing: Palin's loons are the same loons the Republicans have gotten their numbers - and electoral victories - from since the time of Saint Ronnie of the Dyed Hair. They have been expertly manipulated all this time by the muneybags of the "Eastern Establishment." But the Republicans goofed; they acquired control of all three branches of government and even the dimmest bulbs amongst the crazies have finally caught on that the Republicans talk a great game, but they didn't actually do jack for 'em.

Those moneybags folks - primaries or no - will never consent to being led by the likes of Palin; Palins crazies ain't buyin' the Republican promises anymore.

The handwriting is on the wall. The Republican party is doomed and this was just the first engagement in that civil war. Wait 'till 2012! That's when the real fun will begin.

Me, I'm buying shares of popcorn stock; this is gonna be fun to watch.

Posted by: UnEasyOne on November 3, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

The reason Garamendi's impending victory is less important than Hoffman's is the same reason anti-war protests were less news-worthy than tea-party protests. If I could only remember the latter, I'd be able to explain all this.

Posted by: Raenelle on November 3, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

This is a testament to how deeply people think about these things. I'd imagine for the average America is goes a little like this.

California is a blue state so a liberal winning is no big deal. New York is a blue state so a conservative winning is evidence of a political shift. My butt itches. What was I just thinking about?

Posted by: doubtful on November 3, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

"But as a practical matter, California's 10th and New York's 23rd are worth the same thing: a single vote in the U.S. House. Same kind of election, on the same day, with same value. One lacks a cast of wacky characters, but neither is necessarily more important than the other."

Steve you are a great blogger and a clear thinker. That said this is by far the stupidest post I have seen today or even this month (of course the month is young yet).

The House is not the Senate where even a large majority doesn't keep every vote from being critical, the loss of CA 10 would only mean that Garamendi has finally run out his string. John is a career politician who if it wasn't for term limits would be in about his thirtieth year as state Senate Majority Leader. He has been running for higher office since his first run for Governor in 1982 (he lost) and is kind of a known and tired commodity. I don't know many people who dislike Garamendi, but all his election would mean is that a career Democratic center-left politician with near universal name recognition can win a Congressional race in a Democratic leaning center-left district. Yawn.

On the other hand NY-23 could well be the Gettysburg of the Republican Civil War that has raged for fifty years plus between the Eisenhower/Rockefeller faction and the Nixon/Goldwater faction. Sometime after 8PM Eastern we may finally know that the tide of war has turned and that the Party of Lincoln has irrevocably transformed into the Party of Jefferson Davis.

The original Civil War did not end the day after Gettysburg, and General Lee probably wouldn't have agreed that was the moment the War became the Lost Cause, heck historians still disagree on that. But without a doubt Gettysburg ended any hopes of Confederate Armies making any great territorial advances north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Treating NY23 and CA10 as being the same because they are each elections to Congress is to make the same kind of mistake as equating Gettysburg to the Battle of Picacho Pass in Arizona in 1862. I mean a Civil War battle is a Civil War battle after all.

Except when it isn't.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on November 3, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

You guys are looking at this all wrong. Have you seen Doug Hoffman?

We so want this guy as the Face of the Limbaugh Wing of the GOP. I wish I had contributed to his campaign.

Posted by: Cazart on November 3, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

It's more than that, Steve. The ideological shift here, from centrist New Democrat Tauscher to progressive Garamendi, is as big as anywhere in Congress in recent memory.


Posted by: dday on November 3, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

And just adding to what dday said, CA-10 was a swing/leans Republican district (Tauscher won with a tiny margin the first time, IIRC) that is now a guaranteed Democratic seat.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on November 3, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

NY-23 matters because Dems and their media said it mattered back when they thought they would win

Posted by: becauseusaidso on November 3, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

It is important to remember that this is total projection. The only reason the 23rd was in play was because it was reliably GOP. The referendum is actually about how fascist a GOP district can recede and still not lose to a democrat. The keen-witted media are all over this. If a historically GOP district doesn't flip, America hates its president. If it does flip, it is still a historic repudiation because of tea parties of 10. And there is a blonde in a balloon missing.

Posted by: Sparko on November 3, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

In truth, neither House race will have much substantive impact on policy. The majority party in the House can run the body with an iron fist. One or two seats right now won't make the slightest difference to House Democrats.

What sets the New York race apart is not the history of the district, but that the campaign has laid bare the divisions within the Republican Party and set the differing factions against each other. And because so much attention was paid to this race, the same rifts are now going to be played out all across the country, district by district and state by state.

Posted by: Big River Bandido on November 3, 2009 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Saint Ronnie of the Dyed Hair.
Please. Reagan didn't dye his hair -- he was just prematurely indigo.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on November 3, 2009 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

And as California gets "bluer," good workers and businesses leave the state, further shrinking the tax base and crushing the state budget. What a victory to celebrate.

As a member of the "unhinged radical right," I sincerely hope we'll get a chance to implement a simple tax code, term limits, require Constitutional traceability for future and past legislation, and gradually phase out entitlements in favor of voluntary charity. Give freedom a chance.

Posted by: MKS on November 3, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

NY23rd District - (2000) population 654,360

CA 10 District - (2000) population 639,088

Why's one a "referendum on Obama" and the other not?

Posted by: g on November 3, 2009 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

It is a big deal--Garamendi finally has a *real* job! Go Bears!

Posted by: petey on November 3, 2009 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

When I was in my late teens living in what I think was CA-CD7 at the time, which encompassed most of what is now CD-10, and Pete Stark was our representative... I remember my dad complaining that Pete Stark was too conservative.... imagine that!

Posted by: gaarvark on November 3, 2009 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Since you asked:

CA-10: A center-left Democrat is going to win a solid-Democratic district. THIS IS NOT NEWS.

NY-23: A center-right Republican is going to lose a solid-Republican district due to aggressive campaigning against this Republican by the national Republican Party. THIS IS NEWS.

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