Military historians generally regard the Battle of Saratoga, where the ragtag Continental Army surrounded and defeated General John Burgoyne's well-trained and professional British troops, as the turning point in the Revolutionary War. Within days of hearing news of the surrender, the French King Louis XVI, now seeing that the rebels were capable of victory, formally entered into an alliance with them, sealing the fate of British rule in the New World.
Sixty miles away and 232 years later in New York's 23rd Congressional District, conservatives hope for a similar watershed victory in a fight that is being billed as the battle over the soul of the GOP. And just as the 18th-century superpowers France and England used the American colonials as proxies in their storied rivalry, opposing political forces are descending upon the quiet, rural district in upstate New York, setting the stage for a pitched battle that may very well alter the field of presidential candidates in 2012. But before this battle got under way, a cadre of conservative bloggers fired the opening shots they may have already proved decisive.
The proxies in this particular fight are Democrat Bill Owens, liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava, and Conservative Doug Hoffman. It's the latter's candidacy that's heightened the importance of a race that's already significant as an early public opinion bellwether of President Obama's young presidency. Obama and the Democrats are pouring massive resources into this race to prevent an upset that would trigger a stampede to the center by 2010 Democratic congressional candidates. A resounding victory in the 23rd would allow Obama to reassure his party that his radical policies enjoy support with mainstream America, something the Republican Party will do everything in their power to stop--including running Scozzafava, a candidate that is further to the left than her Democratic opponent.
Which brings us to Hoffman's significance. Hoffman is a lifelong conservative Republican who was forced to run as an independent after his party decided Scozzafava had a better chance of winning. An outcast conservative pitted against a moderate Republican establishment isn't anything we haven't already seen in the last year--just look at the grassroots Tea Party movement that was borne out of conservative frustration at George W. Bush and John McCain for supporting stimulus packages and corporate bailouts.
But what is new is that those very same conservatives are impacting a federal election, thanks in large part to a group of bloggers who raised such a hue and cry that it's captured the attention of politicos across the country.
Consequently, if Hoffman wins the election on Tuesday, we may look back at a day two weeks earlier as the day when the conservative blogosphere came of age.
That's when I was sitting in a sushi bar in Huntington Beach listening to Chip Hanlon, CEO of the conservative blogsite Red County, describe his idea to coordinate the efforts of twenty or so influential bloggers to simultaneously call on Scozzafava, who a few days earlier didn't win any friends by calling the cops on the Weekly Standard, to drop out of the race the following day. He said it was an experiment to see what kind of heat the blogs on the right could generate by concentrating their firepower on a particular target. Hanlon, with the help of Quin Hillyer, rounded up their blogging brethren, each of whom agreed to hold their fire until exactly noon.
Then at noon, Eastern Time, on Thursday, October 22nd, they unloaded simultaneous broadsides that are still ringing in the ears of Dede Scozzafava. What started with conservative blogs such as Red County, Red State, Michelle Malkin's Hot Air, Breitbart's Big Government, and The American Spectator spread to the conservative pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, then led to big-name conservative politicians lending their support to Hoffman. Even Sarah Palin emerged temporarily from self-imposed exile to endorse the third-party candidate, potentially tipping her hand for 2012. And while Mike Huckabee declined to officially endorse either candidate, he "proceeded to profusely praise Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman," according to Talking Points Memo.
Meanwhile, rumored 2012 candidate Newt Gingrich is still under withering fire from bloggers for endorsing Scozzafava, particularly from Red State's Erick Erickson who said that Gingrich effectively destroyed his chances of winning the presidency by abandoning conservatives in this crucial race, a race that Dick Armey described as "the eye of the storm", adding, "This country is at a crossroads."
Today, Ventura County's hometown-hero-turned-Congressman Tom McClintock also announced his support for Hoffman, who saw his war chest double virtually overnight and his poll numbers rocket past his opponents.
If Hoffman emerges as the winner of the three-way race on Tuesday night, both parties may be forced to dramatically adjust their positions for next year's congressional elections and the outcome might influence who will run against Obama in 2012--in short, it may ultimately affect the direction of the entire nation.
Not a bad day's work for a handful of conservative bloggers.