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November 5, 2008 - 7:32am

Thoughts on Chris Lee and the campaign, the day after the election

posted by Howard B. Owens in Jon Powers, Alice Kryzan, Chris Lee, NY-26.

What I write below started as a comment in response to John Roach in response to this post, but as I wrote, I realized this is probably just my wrap up commentary on the 26th District congressional race. So, first John's excellent comment, and then my response.

It could have been the DNC negative ads that killed off Alice. Who ever came up with the Chris Lee was fired line at the last minute did Alice no good. Even if the charge is true, the way it came out, and at the last minute, made it look like a stunt. The China thing the national DNC lied about did not help either.

Chris told and/or his side told lies also. It just seems the side that lied the most lost.

John, Chris negative ads, as I said, were pretty devoid of substance -- "liberal trial lawyer" ... "she will raise taxes" ... scripted in 1988.  They had nothing to do with who Alice Kryzan really is, but painted her as characterture. They were relentless.

But I think the ads had the effect they were meant to have, which I didn't really think about until last night: They kept the base loyal.  Lee wasn't really trying, with those ads, to appeal to swing voters, just keep the GOP in the GOP column.  Drown out any positive message Kryzan might have.

And you're right, the DCCC did Kryzan no favors.  Whatever chance Kryzan had, the DCCC killed it. First, the negative ads were over the top and in no way truthful.  Second, they also crowded out Kryzan's message and didn't allow Alice to be Alice. In the end, they played right into the Lee/GOP strategy of muting Kryzan's plans and policy voice.

Kryzan's one chance of winning was to run a campaign of substance on issues, and not make it about Chris Lee. The DCCC tried to make it about Lee. Big mistake.

And you're right about the "fired" thing. I hadn't considered it from that light before. And in that light, you could make the case that the Kryzan campaign mishandled it, because they really tried to play it up.  Langworthy and Lee probably made stick the counter spin of "Kryzan's desperate campaign."

But let's face it, Jon Powers didn't do Kryzan many favors. He was slow to endorse her, and my sense from that is that the Democratic base was then slow to rally to her cause. He didn't start soon enough with the effort to get his name off the Working Families line. He didn't get out on the campaign trail for her soon enough.

That said, I'm optimistic that Chris Lee is a decent fellow.  I've met him once and he left a favorable first impression on me.  I remain concerned that he'll be a "reliable GOP vote" rather than an independent voice of and for the district. I would love a chance to sit down and talk with him at some length about his plans and his policies. Also, he's going to have a very tough job as a freshman congressman working within a decimated GOP minority.

Much has been made over earmarks (pork) the past two years, but the fact is, if you want to target meaningful reductions in Federal spending, pork is a poor choice of where to begin with the knife. Earmarks make up less than 5 percent of the Federal budget. But what earmarks do is allow a congressman to return some taxpayer money to the district.

If used to help build roads, upgrade other infrastructure, finance green business start ups, help local agencies get jobs done they could otherwise not afford, than earmarks help create jobs and make life better in a district. Earmarks shouldn't be used just to do favors for campaign donors.

So here's to hoping Lee will fight for the 26th District's share of pork, and then some.

As for being a "reliable GOP vote," I guess there are two ways of looking at that.  With the GOP in such dire straits in the House, the Republicans sticking together as the opposition party might have some mollifying effect on the Democrats (nothing against Democrats, but in any two-party Constitutional government, there should be some sort of opposition).

On the other hand, Lee has just won a seat that almost guarantees him no more than two terms in office (it will likely be eliminated in redistricting in 2012). The GOP is in disarray and will go through a good deal of soul searching and a few internal battles as it tries to rebuild a meaningful philosophical core.  That may take a generation or two, just as it did post-Hoover This would be a great time for a man like Lee to step out and define himself as an independent voice. It could be what makes or breaks his political career from 2012 onward.

There's no reason Lee can't fashion a voice and voting record that stands in opposition to the most extreme of Democratic plans, but doesn't kowtow to the Republican House leadership.  It will be interesting to see which path Lee chooses.  I haven't given up hope that Lee did what he had to do -- go along with the GOP election strategy  -- in order to safely win the seat, but that he has within him the capability to now step forward and better define himself as a legislator and as a representative.

Russ Stresing
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Negative advertising works. If you don't do it and your opponent does it, you're dead. Ask Kerry. The reason it works is because there is a paucity of people who actually drag their asses out and work, while at the same time, there is a surplus of people who piss and moan ad nauseum about how awful are the political process, election system, media, etc. Negative campaigning is effective because low-information voters loyally plod to the booth and vote party line and they are eager sponges for any information that agrees with their established beliefs. Bemoaning the broken system from behind the keyboard is pissing into the wind if there's no commensurate effort.

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