In case you missed it, while Mitt Romney and Senate Republicans were getting spanked around the country, Democrats were also quietly making moves to take final, complete control of the state legislature in Albany.
Yes, the votes are still being counted, but make no mistake: New York Republicans thought they had this election in the bag and were convinced, especially after this year’s redistricting efforts, that their state Senate majority was safe.
What went wrong? It’s pretty simple, really. The Republican Party has been outflanked in the American political scene, not once but twice, and we’re seeing the impact here in the Empire state.
On the right, Conservatives and tea party activists are increasingly well organized and dogmatic.
Republicans who don’t toe the inflexible line carved out by purists will be punished, either with primary challenges or with third-party attacks during the general election.
We saw this drama play out through the spring in the GOP national primary, with Mitt Romney swatting desperately at ultra-conservatives who were unelectable, yet who held broad appeal with many voters inspired by tea party rhetoric.
Even after Romney moved to center himself for the final push to the White House, fringe Republicans kept popping up with loony arguments about “legitimate” rape and pregnancies caused by rape being “God’s will.”
Here in New York, meanwhile, conservative Republicans went hard at moderates in the state Senate, unseating Roy McDonald in Saratoga county in the primary.
Then Conservatives ran a third party challenger against Poughkeepsie moderate Stephen Saland in the 41st district Senate race.
Saland’s crime against conservative orthodoxy? The Republican supported same-sex marriage. Without that challenge, Saland would have won handily.
In an interview with Gannett, Conservative Party chairman Mike Long was unrepentant about attacking the GOP from its right flank.
“I want [Republicans] to keep control but I was not going to throw the principles of the party out the window for the purpose of keeping control,” Long said.
“That’s the lesson that legislators have to understand. They have to understand that when they vote—many times, not all the times—votes have consequences.”
Meanwhile, however, Republicans are also being challenged on their left flank.
The Democratic Party, which is less purist, less insistent on orthodoxy than the conservative movement, has been running more moderate candidates.
Many of them are pro-business centrists. They’re following Andrew Cuomo’s lead, taking a progressive line on social issues, while embracing regulatory and tax reform.
Terry Gipson, the man poised to steal away the traditionally Republican seat in the Hudson Valley, is a businessman and a moderate, who campaigned on jobs and the economy.
No longer are Democrats offering up candidates in upstate races who have no funding, and who campaign exclusively on liberal causes that give them little chance of winning.
With Democrats willing to move to the center, the electorate in New York state is also becoming more and more Democratic. That combination gives them a powerful edge in elections.
In an interview yesterday with NCPR, state Senator Betty Little said her Republican Party will have to change to compete in this new climate.
“I think [party leaders] have to look deep and look at where the country is going. And I think they need to be a little more centrist than what they have been in this election. They do need to be more inclusive,” she argued.
But in the months and years ahead, the path walked by the GOP will likely grow narrower and narrower. Welcome to the razor’s edge.
If Democrats continue to gobble up moderate positions — pro-business, pro-growth — while Conservatives continue demanding hard-line social stances — anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage — Republican lawmakers may find themselves toppling.
Indeed, we’ve already seen some talented, moderate Republicans leave the scene or change flags altogether. Dede Scozzafava now works for Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Teresa Sayward endorsed Democrat Bill Owens and Barack Obama.
Those are the kind of women who might have been the future face of the GOP.
Now, instead, they’ve moved on — weary of ferocious attacks from conservatives. The fear for Republicans is that more and more voters will do the same.