Are conservatives poised for a North Country revival? It’s already happening.

As we head into election day, Democrats face the prospect of a massive conservative surge in North Country politics, possibly forcing them to give up the last of the historic gains they made beginning in 2006.

That was the year that Kirsten Gillibrand surged past Republican John Sweeney in the 20th district House race, leveraging a scandal to overcome a nearly-80,000 voter GOP enrollment advantage.

Gillibrand repeated the feat in 2008, the same year that Democrat Darrel Aubertine captured a North Country state Senate seat.

Meanwhile, three moderate Republican women were defining the political culture within the GOP, with Dede Scozzafava, Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward all supporting same-sex marriage and declaring themselves pro-choice on abortion.

The center-left momentum continued in 2009 and 2010, with Bill Owens twice capturing the 23rd district House seat, the first time a Democrat had held that seat — ever.

In those elections, voters rejected Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman and conservative Republican Matt Doheny by narrow margins.

But in 2012, the landscape appears very different.  Aubertine and Scozzafava are already gone, with both now holding posts in the Democratic Cuomo administration — and both were replaced in the state legislature by Republicans.

The “Gillibrand” House seat, meanwhile, was lost by Demorats in 2010 to Republican Chris Gibson.

Teresa Sayward, the champion of same-sex marriage in the state Assembly, is also on her way out, having chosen not to seek re-election.  Her likely successor, Dan Stec from Queensbury, is considerably more conservative.

Janet Duprey, from Peru, faces a fierce Conservative challenge on Tuesday from Conservative Karen Bisso in the 115th Assembly district, with the outcome made more uncertain by this year’s shifted redistricting maps.

Finally, Owens is locked in a tight re-election contest with Doheny and he faces an avalanche of conservative spending, which now tops $3.2 million dollars when you factor in the money the Republican has spent from his own bank account.

If, after tomorrow, the North Country in 2013 is represented by Matt Doheny, Karen Bisso, Dan Stec and Patty Ritchie, it will be a very different landscape than it was just a short time ago.

Was the era when Democrats and moderate-to-liberal Republicans dominated the political scene an aberration?  Are we drifting back toward a more traditional “red” North Country?

That’s not entirely clear.  Polls show that Barack Obama, Kirsten Gillibrand and Andrew Cuomo — all Democrats — still draw significant support in our region.

More plausible, I think, is the idea that Democrats have simply failed to organize, recruit candidates and build on their success that mobilizes long-term support.

Part of the problem may lie with the resignation of June O’Neill, the St. Lawrence County political operative who stepped down as head of the state Democratic Party in 2011.

I think it’s arguable that O’Neill’s leadership gave the North Country’s Democrats an extra spark, and fresh energy.  That seems missing now.

Owens has run a quiet-to-lackluster campaign this year.  Democrats failed to field a top-tier candidate to challenge for Sayward’s vacant seat.  They also failed to capitalize seriously on Duprey’s third-party Conservative challenge in the 115th district race.

Whatever the cause, Democrats are clearly being outmatched by Conservatives and Republicans.  It’s one thing to win a spate of big elections.  It’s another to build the kind of political infrastructure that moves the needle over the long-term.

I think the same argument can be made about the old Rockefeller wing of the North Country’s GOP.  Candidates like John McHugh, Scozafava, Duprey and Sayward were once the standard for the region.

Even if Duprey picks up a win on Tuesday, it’s clear that that the growing tea party-social conservative tide that has changed the rest of the country’s Republican brand has arrived in force in our corner of the world.

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21 Comments on “Are conservatives poised for a North Country revival? It’s already happening.”

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  1. The title implies that right-wing-ism somehow disappeared or went into hibernation. This area has always been conservative. Even Democrats that have been elected like Rep. Owens and former Sen. Aubertine, have been quite a bit more conservative than the rest of their party in those bodies.

    Where Democrats have won, there’s been the participation of buffoons and hard ideologues, like John Sweeney, Jim Tedisco and Doug Hoffman.

    Stec is indeed an abrasive loudmouth, a la his predecessor in the Queensbury hotseat Jerry Solomon. But he’s more outspoken on fiscal issues than more divisive social issues that the hard right is obsessed with these days.

    And voters are so disillusioned with the extremist GOP state senate candidate Kathy Marchione that the incumbent she beat in the primary, Sen. Roy McDonald, is still polling 26% despite him suspending active campaigning and essentially withdrawing from the race.

    Sen. McDonald and Assemblywomen Sayward and Duprey are all pretty conservative, except for their votes in favor of civil rights. That shows how extreme the Tea Party Taliban are. You can be with them 90-something percent of the time, as those two were, and still they’ll try to take you down.

  2. Paul says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily call it a revival. It maybe never really died. It was just temporarily interrupted. The same may be true nationally, we will see tomorrow. Go vote.

  3. TomL says:

    Demorats! (see 8th paragraph). Brian, I thought you wanted us to all be more civil. ; )

  4. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Being a an elderly conservative who remembers fondly the days of Barry Goldwater, I’m betting the big reasons for the resurgence are the obvious ones. It’s the economy, it’s the debt, it’s the regulation, the costs of everything rising, it’s QE1, 2 and so on, it’s gas and fuel prices, it’s corn going through the roof costing farmers a bundle with rising diesel too and the milk check is still shrinking, it’s Cuomos land purchases when we have no money, it’s Obamacare and golf games and basketball and being told we shouldn’t fly to Vegas but it’s okay when Barry does, it’s leaving Americans to die when we could have saved at least some of them, it’s claiming “You didn’t build that.” when we did, it’s wondering just what Vladimir was asking for that caused Obama to send the message of assurance that he would “have a lot more flexibility” after the election. Finally, it’s TAXES. We Tea Party Taliban, nice name calling by the way, aren’t all that cranked up about much else like we are about taxes and spending. I don’t know why that’s so hard for some people to grasp. It’s all about taxes and spending. Ask any land owner in SLC how they feel about a 20% tax hike. I bet you won’t find many that get that warm fuzzy feeling. Ask a guy filling his oil tank if he’s in favor of that pipe line from Canada or fracking or developing our own energy resources. Point out to the working Mom that the state gets 49 cents on every gallon she buys and that NY has the highest gasoline taxes in the nation and see how that sits. Then ask her, or yourself, where that money goes.

    It’s all the same old reasons. Robbing Peter to pay Paul will always get Pauls support. You can only promise people so much free stuff for so long before they figure out they have to pay for it in the end.

  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The landscape is the landscape. The demographics are still going to favor a gradual shift to the left in the north country. I will try to say this a civilly as I can; the Tea Party types are an overwhelmingly white haired demographic.
    They aren’t going to be around forever. If we can manage to keep our young people, as everyone always seems to want, we will become ever more centrist.

  6. mervel says:

    I don’t know. I don’t think those three you mentioned were simply not Republicans in any sense of the word, even disregarding their social stands, they were much more liberal than any sort of Rockefeller Republican. Most conservative Democrats, people like Aubertine or even Owens are MORE conservative than Sozaffava for example, so as a conservative I would vote for one of those over her if that were the choice and many in the North Country have.

    I would look for the real interest in the possibility of the North Country and places like it, leading a new Conservative leaning Democratic force. As the Republicans fade, the basic ideas don’t so they will likely be taken up by some Democrats.

  7. Brian Mann says:

    Some good points here. I would still argue that there is a visible trend, first away from the slate of Democrats (Gillibrand, Owens, Murphy, Aubertine) who achieved extraordinary victories between 2006 and 2010, and second away from the moderate Republicans (Sayward, Duprey, Scozzafava, McHugh) who once defined the North Country’s political culture.

    We’ll see today how pronounced this trend is. If Owens and Duprey pull out wins, it will certainly muddle my theory. Stay tuned…

    –Brian, NCPR

  8. TomL says:

    Brian, how do you explain Addie Russell (NYS Assembly 118)? She is less conservative than anyone you have listed, except possibly Gillibrand. She is part of that swing you mention. Yet she seems to be heading for an easy win in her North Country District.

  9. Peter Hahn says:

    We will see soon. certainly the republicans have moved rightward, but the region has moved slightly “centerword” electing centrist Democrats. It’s is a historically republican region. Something has to give.

  10. Pete Klein says:

    If you want to know why young people are leaving the Adirondacks, especially Hamilton County, it isn’t just job prospects or the lack of them, it is the totally boring North Country created by conservative Republicans.
    Young people know they are not wanted here except for their body count and the hope they will reproduce.
    What’s here for them on the social level? Tricky Tray and garage sales?
    This isn’t a bad place to live when you are in grade school. But by the time you are in high school, the area offers nothing on a social level.

  11. dave says:

    Is Bisso as fringe as she seems?

    I haven’t been following that race enough to know, but the impression I get from her is straight up wild eyed Michele Bachmann.

  12. Brian M: There’s a reason those victories were described by you as “extraordinary.” Out of the ordinary.

  13. Mervel says:

    Maybe I am just out of it? Just talking to people, talking to conservatives in the North Country, they just don’t seem like they have a passion for tea party style conservatism? Most are just regular conservatives who are focused on our local issues and would vote for a conservative Democrat as much as a Republican. Now my view is limited no doubt about it, so indeed maybe there is this ultra tea party style conservative in the parts of the North Country I don’t visit as much?

  14. RD says:

    Duprey will skate. Democrats in Clinton County love her. Plus, Bisso is a crackpot. Hope common sense wins out and Owens wins as well.

    Rancid Crabtree, your name says it all.. pure bitterness, no solutions other than do nothing and bow to stockholders. Why is it ok to rape the landscape with fracking and pipelines but not to invest in R & D for renewable energy?

  15. Mervel says:

    “I would still argue that there is a visible trend, first away from the slate of Democrats (Gillibrand, Owens, Murphy, Aubertine) who achieved extraordinary victories between 2006 and 2010, and second away from the moderate Republicans (Sayward, Duprey, Scozzafava, McHugh) who once defined the North Country’s political culture.”

    But Brian who are the local hardcore conservatives who won? Where are they? I don’t see the trend but maybe I am missing something? SLC voted for Obama, you can’t have a conservative revival and a county that votes for Obama. They may not be really liberal, but I just don’t see a conservative upswing.

  16. Mervel says:

    A true conservative revival would have easily carried Hoffman to victory. It was nowhere in sight.

  17. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I expect that Brian M will have to find new ways to describe the region in the future, because the tired old adjectives carried along more by inertia than by observation just aren’t going to work tomorrow.

  18. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Actually RD, the name is a character in a series of my favorite books. And please point out where I said I was in favor of raping anything? You make assumptions and you know what assuming does to you.

  19. mervel says:

    They have not worked since at least 2008 Knuckle. Even before all of the Republicans got thrown out, the region was not as conservative as many believed. Now in NYS a moderate Democrat may be seen as some sort of hardcore conservative, or a pro-life Democrat may be see as a a big conservative, those labels just don’t fit.

  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Here’s the take-away for tonight: the media can no longer tout the region as a Republican stronghold. Stop talking about the 2-1 voter enrollment because it means nothing. The North Country is swing territory. Congratulations all you swingers!

  21. Rancid Crabtree says:

    The North Country isn’t swing territory. What the NC is is an area with a lot of Democrat union people and a relatively huge, huge number of very poor Social Assistance recipients in all it’s forms. The promise of more power to the unions and free stuff swings the vote.

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