Republicans in Delaware and New York Face November Rout After Far-Right Candidates Backed by Tea Party Movement Score Stunning Upsets in Respective Primaries for Senate and Governor; Rightward March Puts Northeast Republicans on Endangered Species List in a Fiercely Moderate-to-Liberal Region of the Nation Already Dominated by Democrats
(Posted 11:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, September 21, 2010)
NOTE TO READERS: Due to a computer crash, this week's column is being posted six hours later than usual. We regret any inconvenience that the delay may have caused.
By SKEETER SANDERS
Republicans are in a heady, almost gleeful, state of mind as the final campaign toward the November 2 midterm elections gets under way in earnest.
For the first time since the 1930s, more people cast ballots in the Republican primaries than in the Democratic primaries, and there is a far higher level of enthusiasm and willingness to vote among Republicans this year, as anger over the sour economy continues to trump nearly every other issue. Historically, such anger over bad economic times has been bad news for the party in control of the White House and Congress -- in this case, the Democrats.
But Republicans shouldn't pop the bubbly just yet. In fact, they need to be seriously worried about the party's long-term electoral survival in the one region of the country where Republican officeholders are a shrinking minority: The Northeast.
The headline-grabbing GOP primaries in Delaware and New York last Tuesday, which saw hard-line right-wing Tea Party-backed candidates score stunning upset victories over party establishment-backed candidates, threaten to sink the Republicans into political irrelevancy in the most fiercely moderate-to-liberal region in the country -- home to nearly 46 million people in 11 states from Maine to Maryland -- that was once a rock-solid GOP bastion but is now overwhelmingly Democratic.
O'DONNELL ALREADY HAUNTED BY CONTROVERSIAL PAST COMMENTS ON SOCIAL ISSUES
In Delaware, Tea Party-backed candidate Christine O'Donnell set off a political earthquake by defeating longtime Representative Mike Castle for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat long held by Vice President Joe Biden. And in New York, Tea Party-backed candidate Carl Paladino shocked former Representative Rick Lazio for the GOP nomination for governor.
But within hours of O'Donnell's upset victory, the newly-minted GOP nominee's past role as an arch-conservative social activist with ties to the Religious Right came back to haunt her -- and to cause deep embarrassment for GOP leaders -- when video clips quickly surfaced on the Internet and cable-news channels in which O'Donnell, who first gained national exposure in the mid-1980s as a spokeswoman for conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly's Concerned Women for America, made a series of highly controversial statements on the use of condoms, the fight against AIDS, the role of women in the military, and even witchcraft.
With TV gadfly Bill Maher vowing to release more embarrassing video clips of O'Donnell's appearances on his now-defunct ABC talk show "Politically Incorrect" -- on which O'Donnell was a frequent guest -- former Bush political adviser Karl Rove lambasted O'Donnell's remarks as "nutty" and declaring flatly that the Senate race in Delaware "is not a race we're going to be able to win."
In a heated exchange with Sean Hannity on Hannity's Fox News Channel show last Wednesday night, Rove raised questions about O'Donnell's personal finances amid allegations by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an ethics watchdog group, that she illegally spent campaign funds to pay her personal bills.
Hannity sought to defend O'Donnell by claiming that the allegations about her finances were "trumped-up charges from my standpoint that the Republican establishment was against her."
Rove immediately fired back, "Did you ask her about the people who were following her home to her headquarters? There are just a lot of nutty things she's been saying that don't add up. Why did she mislead voters about her college education? How come it took nearly two decades to pay her college bills so she could get her college degree? How did she make a living?"
PALADINO GOES BALLISTIC ON CUOMO AFTER PRIMARY WIN
A week after millionaire real estate magnate Carl Paladino came roaring back from a double-digit deficit in pre-primary polls to overwhelm former Representative Rick Lazio for the GOP nomination for governor in a 67 percent-to-33 percent landslide, New York Republican Party leaders remain in a state of shock, whipsawed by a hurricane of anti-incumbent fever fueled by a Tea Party movement that the GOP establishment failed to take seriously.
Paladino spent more than $3 million of his own money in a campaign that was marked by often-incendiary rhetoric on the stump, including a vow to invoke eminent domain to block the construction of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. "I've been driving land-use issues for 40 years, and I understand the full powers of the governor. If the [American Civil Liberties Union] or anyone else wants to challenge me in court, I'm ready for the fight," Paladino said in a campaign statement.
That was music to the ears of former Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, who touched off a firestorm of controversy last May when he blasted the proposed Park 51 center as "a monument to the 9/11 terrorists" and "the terrorists' monkey-god."
And Paladino wasted no time in lashing out at his Democratic rival, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo -- by hitting him below the belt, at least figuratively. In a written challenge to Cuomo to a debate, Paladino all but challenged Cuomo's manhood. "Frankly, I don't think you have the cojones to face me and the other candidates in an open debate," he wrote. Cojones is the Spanish word for testicles.
In a rip at Cuomo's father, Mario, who was governor from 1983 to 1995, Paladino wrote, "So Andrew, for the first time in your life, be a man!" Paladino wrote. "Don't hide behind Daddy's coattails even though he pulled strings to advance your career every step of your way. Come out and debate like a man!"
The New York Daily News reported in its Tuesday editions late Monday night that a "furious" Cuomo was preparing to strike back hard at Paladino. "If a guy says you have no cojones, how do you punch him back, call him an a--hole?" the newspaper quoted a source close to the Cuomo campaign as saying.
DESPITE TEA PARTY BRAVADO, NORTHEAST REPUBLICANS FEAR DISASTER IN NOVEMBER
Despite assertions by Tea Party activists of a "people's revolution" at the ballot box on November 2, Republicans in Delaware and New York -- and the rest of the Northeast -- are openly fearful that the right-wing movement's primary wins will spell disaster for their party and render irreversible a 20-year erosion of voter support for a GOP that has moved too far to the right in a region of the country that remains fiercely moderate to liberal.
The Northeast was a solidly Republican bastion for nearly a century after the party eclipsed the Whigs in the 1870s. It has been home to such moderate-to-liberal GOP stalwarts as Theodore Roosevelt, Jacob Javits and Nelson Rockefeller of New York; George Aiken, Ralph Flanders and James Jeffords of Vermont; Lowell Weicker and Christopher Shays of Connecticut; Edward Brooke and William Weld of Massachusetts; Thomas Kean and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey; Richard Schweiker and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, John and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Margaret Chase Smith, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.
But the political loyalties of Northeasterners began to shift from Republican to Democrat after conservatives led by Barry Goldwater overthrew the "Northeastern Liberal Establishment" at the 1964 Republican National Convention. The trend accelerated in 1968 after the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon instituted its now-infamous "Southern Strategy" of openly appealing to conservative white voters in the South who vehemently opposed the Democratic Party's support for the civil rights movement.
By the turn of the millennium, the Republicans' conservative drift turned into a full-scale ideological purge when right-wing party hard-liners began a full-scale jihad to drive the GOP's few remaining moderates and liberals -- whom the hard-liners derisively brand "RINOs" -- Republicans in name only -- out of the party altogether, culminating in the departure in 2007 of Lincoln Chafee, the last truly liberal Republican in the Senate, who lost his 2006 bid for re-election to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.
Chafee is now running for governor of Rhode Island as an independent.
Today, the Northeast remains the most solidly moderate-to-liberal region in the country -- but now its voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. Not a single Republican represents the six New England states in the House of Representatives. Only three of the region's 22 U.S. Senators and three of its 11 governors are Republican. All 11 Northeastern states' legislatures are controlled by Democrats.
With the Tea Party victories in Republican primaries across the country, many of the party's few remaining moderates fear that not only will O'Donnell and Paladino be buried in Democratic landslides in their respective races, but that they will drag other Republicans in the Northeast down with them, rendering the region lost to the GOP for generations -- just as the Democrats lost the South in the 1960s and that region has remained a conservative Republican bastion ever since.
In an interview with The New York Times, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) warned that "We [Republicans] can't be a majority party if we can't appeal across the spectrum, if we have an exclusionary approach in general.
"A 100 percent ideological purity test — I don't live in that Utopian world; it's not reflective of the real world," Snowe told the Times. "I hope that's not the approach."
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Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.