The Local Argument for Scozzafava

ALBANY—As much as the fight in the 23rd Congressional district is ideological, it’s also becoming a local-versus-national fight, with support for Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party’s nominee, coming from beyond the 11-county district and local Republicans generally standing by Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.

Newt Gingrich touched on this earlier this week, when he said on Fox News and WAMC that “we ought to be a little cautious about trying to impose our national genes on a local community.”

I just got off the phone with Brian Kolb, leader of the Assembly Republican conference where Scozzafava is a member.

“My feeling is the people who should be deciding who represents them are the people who live there,” Kolb, who has endorsed Scozzafava, told me. “Let them decide who represents them. The process was that 11 Republican committees chose Dede. This was not done by the state committee, this was not done by the party bosses; this was done by a grass-roots process.

She may be a devil, but damn it, she’s our devil and we all chose to dance with her. There is a limit to this truth: like all political processes, the one that yield Scozzafava was political, the product of alliances and old-fashioned deal making as much as it was meritocracy. (The same can be said of the way Democrats picked Bill Owens as their nominee.)

But Scozzafava’s selling point has been that she knows the district, understands the relevant issues and would be able to advocate for them effectively in Congress. This was apparent to me when I spoke to her (and the other nominees) about health care, it came out in a debate where she offered an opinion on every question asked and was cited by the Watertown Daily Times when it made its endorsement.

“The 23rd has as little significance as Gettysburg. It’s just where the armies met,” says Bob Gorman, managing editor of the WDT told Time magazine. “Everybody was looking for a fight, and that’s where they found each other.”

And the outside forces seem to be winning.

“I think in New York State people are moderates, and expect their candidates and elected officials to reflect their opinions,” Nick Spano, a former Republican state senator from Westchester County, told me. “From what I’ve seen, we’re seeing many outside influences utilizing the internet and utilizing the technology today to raise money and create the boogey-man theory. That leads to policies of intolerance, and does not make us as Republicans look good.”