More often than not, the big headline grabbing scrums at the national level just don’t get much play here in the North Country. Elections can pivot on hyper-local issues. Sometimes, a family name or a local scandal is plenty.
But every so often, our politics reflect, or even prefigure, the big national trends.
When Doug Hoffman launched his Conservative Party candidacy, he was challenging the region’s Republican establishment, a kind of pre-amble of the tea party insurrection that followed.
This year again, issues like same-sex marriage, contraception, and religious liberty could well be defining — or at least significant factors — in at least three key political match-ups.
The 114th Assembly District
Republican Janet Duprey, who supported same-sex marriage, already faces two candidates who see themselves as more conservative on social issues.
Two years ago, Cadyville businessman David Kimmel challenged Duprey and made homosexuality one of his issues. In the end, he lost handily and Duprey blasted him in her victory speech.
“It’s not about screaming during a debate and distorting the facts afterwards,” Duprey said. “And it’s not about prejudice and hateful messages. I truly believe this victory tonight is an affirmation of my personal honesty, integrity and willingness to stand for what I believe in. It is an affirmation against bullying, bigotry and intolerance.”
In the rematch this year, Kimmel says he plans to focus more on economic issues, according to Chris Morris’s report int he Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
[H]e still stands behind his conservative principles when it comes to things like gay marriage and abortion – both of which he adamantly opposes. But in this race, he wants to put the focus on the economy and job creation.
“I owe it to myself, my supporters, and frankly to the voters,” he said. “I don’t mean to say I’m abandoning anything at all. I don’t mean to say I’ve suddenly gone from being one way to being another. I want to make sure it’s clear. And that’s something I can control by constantly focusing on those things.”
But Kimmel (and fellow conservative Karen Bisso, who is also running against Duprey) come from a faction of the North Country’s GOP that parted ways with Duprey primarily because of gay marriage.
Minimizing that issue won’t be easy.
State Senate 43rd district
And then there’s the fight brewing around state Senator Roy McDonald, a veteran Republican who was the deciding vote that pushed same-sex marriage over the top in New York. His district includes a big chunk of Glens Falls and Queensbury.
He now faces a full-blown rebellion, with the Conservative Party pulling its support, and many town GOP committees refusing to back him.
Even his home town of Wilton sided with his primary challenger, a state Assemblyman from Rensselaer County named Steven McLaughlin.
“[Sen. McDonald's] stances on the social issues, especially the gay marriage vote, played heavily on the minds of the people that eventually voted for Steve McLaughlin,” county chairman Scott Kingsley said in an interview with the Glens Falls Post Star.
The tension is creating a lot of hand-wringing for party leaders.
“They think that they can punish Roy, but they may be punishing themselves,” [long-time Saratoga County GOP chairman Jasper Nolan said [in an interview with the Saratogian newspaper].
“Did he do something we’re all mad about? Yes. But let’s face it, everybody knows that the issue of same-sex marriage is over. We cannot reverse that at this point in time.”
23rd district Congressional race
Meanwhile, the 23rd district congressional race also faces some of the culture war crosscurrents roiling Washington.
Republican challenger Matt Doheny has issued three press releases in the last month, targeting incumbent Democrat Bill Owens on the contraception-religious freedom debate that has gone thermonuclear.
“My opponent continues to pretend that it’s perfectly acceptable for government to use the guise of ‘greater good’ to mandate what insurance will cover, regardless of whose freedoms are trampled,” Doheny said in his statement.
He went on to identify himself as “an American and a practicing Catholic,” adding, “Owens is a Catholic, but he’s put his loyalty to ObamaCare first by defending the ruling.”
It’s a rare thing for a North Country politician to lay down a religious challenge so bluntly, calling out an opponent on the practice of his faith.
Owens, meanwhile, has officially supported a White House backed compromise plan that Bishop Terry LaValley, head of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, has said still appears to be inadequate.
The plan would have insurance companies pay for contraception directly, without involving faith groups.
“I had hoped a compromise could be reached on this issue, and I believe President Obama has found a responsible balance,” [Rep. Owens] said. “This compromise ensures women will have access to essential preventive health care while protecting religious liberty.”
Nationally, polls show that more Americans side with President Obama than with the bishops on this particular issue, but it’s unclear how it will cut here in the North Country.
So that’s three big races in our region, each with a big dose of culture war politics spicing the soup. So what do you think? Are these issues a distraction? Do social issues play a big role in helping you decide your vote?
And how do you Republicans see this? In two of these cases, moderate GOP leaders face challenges from the more socially conservative wing of their party. Is that a healthy tension? A sign of disarray? Comments welcome.