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Where Have All the Republicans Gone?

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In a semi-functioning democracy, elections ought to feature some semblance of choice. In New York, by contrast, voters have been handed a fait accompli in the race for Governor and U.S. Senator. That’s absurd.

The 2006 election should have been a stirring New York slugfest, a bruising and instructive referendum on the policies of two of the Democratic Party’s most visible and controversial stars, Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer. But the lack of any true opposition on the Republican side has deprived voters of getting a closer look at these two formidable personalities.

And so Mr. Spitzer—whose time as State Attorney General has shown that a dynamic, strong-willed leader can make a difference for the public good, even in the ethics-challenged atmosphere of Albany—will be the 54th Governor of New York State. And Mrs. Clinton, the most polarizing figure in American politics today, will hold onto her Senate seat with barely a hair out of place.

The Spitzer and Clinton victories will likely be good for New Yorkers. But what a better outcome it would have been if Mr. Spitzer and Ms. Clinton had been forced to defend their positions in the cauldron of a real campaign.

Indeed, there is not a single Republican statewide candidate who has been able to wage a serious campaign against his or her Democrat opponent. In fact, the enormous media attention given to Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s error in using public funds to pay for his wife’s driver only became a campaign issue because there was so little significant news emerging from any of the other statewide races. And that’s a real scandal.

Hillary Clinton made history in 2000 when she became the first woman to win statewide office in New York. She has been a surprisingly good voice for New York and has emerged as a hard-working national leader, a force for moderation in her party and, by all appearances, the leading Democratic candidate for the office her husband held from 1993 to 2001. Yet it would have been to Mrs. Clinton’s advantage to have fought her way to re-election. Instead, she can claim to be the vanquisher of Rick Lazio and John Spencer—hardly a test of Presidential timber.

Looking to Albany, the Pataki era is about to end—not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with a collective yawn. After one of the more lethargic tenures in New York political history, Mr. Pataki is leaving New York for the cornfields of Iowa and the snow-covered byways of New Hampshire, not to mention Virginia and South Carolina. Yes, George E. Pataki considers himself Presidential material.

His fellow Republicans would do well to inquire about the state of the G.O.P. in New York. In a word, the party is a mess. With an open Governor’s seat, the party could not find a Republican with star power to compete with Mr. Spitzer. Meanwhile, the G.O.P. has completely lost control of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties—the suburban counties surrounding the city that once provided votes, money and future aspirants for higher office. Under Mr. Pataki, the Republican Party developed no farm system, cultivated no new adherents and articulated no new ideas. The result is the electoral disaster that awaits Republicans on Nov. 7.

It didn’t have to be so. Yes, Mr. Spitzer came into the race with huge name recognition, thanks to his many high-profile prosecutions. Still, the job of Governor requires other kinds of skills and priorities, and it was incumbent upon the Republicans to make a strong case against Mr. Spitzer. They have failed miserably. Yes, Hillary Clinton also came into the race with tremendous advantages. But the G.O.P had six years to groom and promote a challenger, and they came up with … Jeanine Pirro. Remember her? Well, she’s running for State Attorney General now, but first she was running against Mrs. Clinton. Her campaign produced a laugh a minute, leading her to bow out and pursue Mr. Spitzer’s current job.

Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton are strong candidates with impressive records. They are stars of the Democratic Party, not just in New York but around the country. But the voters deserved a real campaign. They didn’t get one, thanks to the bungling of George Pataki’s Republican Party.

The Post Makes News

In case you missed the New York Post’s front-page story, or its four-page “souvenir pullout” section, or the big electronic billboard in Times Square, we’ll let you in on the secret: The Post is the fifth-largest daily newspaper in the country, according to data released this week by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. While daily papers around the country saw their circulation drop precipitously, setting off alarm bells in corporate boardrooms across the land, the Post distinguished itself by showing a gain of 5.1 percent, to 704,011 daily readers. During the same period, The New York Times’ daily circulation fell by 3.5 percent, The Washington Post’s by 3.3 percent and the Los Angeles Times’ by 8 percent.

The Post’s achievement is not a matter of luck, but rather one of design. One cannot attribute its recent circulation surge merely to the American appetite for in-depth coverage of gossip and scandal. In the bigger picture, the paper has worked overtime to create a voice that appeals to its readers, capturing both the street-smart and the smart-aleck, while becoming a brash player in the political arguments of our age. That’s a lot to accomplish on a daily basis, particularly for a right-leaning paper in a left-leaning city, and the Post’s reporters and editors deserve credit for a job well done.

At a time when obituaries are appearing about newspapers rather than in them, the success of one New York paper is good news for all.