Much Ado About NY-20

MUCH ADO ABOUT NY-20…. The big news tomorrow will be the special election in NY-20 to replace Senator Gillibrand. As you know by now, the election has become a proxy war for larger national battles over the stimulus. So there will inevitably be a lot of ink spilled on what the election means. Personally though, I think the answer is “not much,” regardless of who wins.

The main reason is that the political battle over the stimulus is better understood as long-term positioning, rather than as short-term news cycle battles. What people think today — or on Wednesday — about the political success of the stimulus simply doesn’t matter that much. What matters is how the economy looks down the road.

Remember that the GOP opposed the stimulus not so much to reap short-term success, but to position themselves for the future. If things don’t improve, then the GOP will have drawn a sharp political contrast and can pound the Dems over the head with it. If, however, things get better, the GOP will be in serious trouble for opposing the stimulus pretty much unanimously. (On an aside, it’s worth noting that the GOP’s rational interests are no longer aligned with the health of the economy — though I suppose that’s true for all minority parties).

Anyway, the NY-20 election will be big news for several days — and the spin will come fast and furious. But at the end of the day, it won’t really affect the long-term picture. The GOP has already made its decision — and a loss on Tuesday won’t help or hurt them in the grand scheme of things.

Plus, the demographics make it hard to draw any strong conclusions one way or the other. If the Republicans win, it’s hard to see what the big deal is. It’s a Republican district that went for Bush in 2000 and 2004 (average +7.5). If the Democrats win, it’s a somewhat bigger deal — but not much. Obama won the district 51-48, and still has strong popularity as a new president. All in all, the election will signal very little about the battles to come.

Don’t get me wrong — I will clearly enjoy watching the RNC try to spin a loss. But it’s worth remembering — before results start coming in — that there’s little at stake here other than short-term bragging rights (which are admittedly fun to have).