As the 33rd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) roared to a close Saturday night in Washington, D.C., New York State Conservative Party leaders and activists began to descend upon snowy Albany, as they have done for 39 years now, for their own Conservative Party Political Action Conference (CPPAC).
Much like the national conference, CPPAC attendees were treated to speeches and panels on issues such as election law, stem cell research, and so on. Yet unlike the national event, CPPAC is a party conference, and with statewide elections looming in November, the New York State Conservative Party stands at maybe the most critical juncture of its 43-year history.
In recent months the undistinguished outgoing Governor George Pataki (who would never have become governor back in 1994 without the votes cast for him on the Conservative Party line) has finally distinguished himself -- as having spent more time in Iowa than any other presidential hopeful. Meanwhile, back in the Empire State, he has left behind a legacy of multiple disappointments including a basically wrecked state Republican Party lacking both a backbench and a backbone.
As such, the feeble State GOP leadership (presumably with Pataki's blessing) has decided that its party's best hope against the formidable presumptive Democratic nominee, Eliot Spitzer, lies in one William Weld. Yes, William Weld, the former two-term Governor of Massachusetts, has moved to New York to do it all over again. Yes, the same William Weld whom conservatives thought had been relegated to the political ash heap after Senator Jesse Helms famously nuked his nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico during the Clinton era.
"The fact that Weld is the leading contender speaks volumes about the state of the New York GOP," said Tony Fabrizio, a nationally known Republican strategist and New York native. "How can there be no homegrown contender groomed and prepared to take on someone like Spitzer? The need for them to call on a former Governor of Massachusetts, a guy to the left of Pataki, when they know all too well that they are toast this time around if they don't field someone acceptable to conservatives is just amazing."
But the New York State Conservative Party -- the tail which has at times wagged the State GOP dog with astonishing effectiveness over the years but seemed to some to have become a bit passive over the course of the Pataki era -- is just not having it.
There are in fact four candidates seeking both the Republican and Conservative party nominations: Weld, current Secretary of State Randy Daniels, former Assembly Republican leader-turned lobbyist John Faso, and a young Assemblyman from the upper Hudson Valley, Patrick Manning. To date, Faso and Manning seem to be the clear favorites of the Conservative rank and file, some seem to find Daniels relatively acceptable, and very few have warmed to the concept of a Weld candidacy.
Mike Long, a tough and feisty Marine with uncommon political acumen, has led the Conservative Party since 1988. In the days leading up to CPPAC, Long reiterated that Weld is highly unlikely to wind up with his party's nomination. Further, if indeed the state GOP leadership doesn't abandon its support for Weld in favor of a candidate more acceptable to conservatives, it is widely believed that the Conservatives will field a general election ticket of their own.
Such a development would, of course, ensure a Spitzer victory in November, but many conservatives both in and out of the state believe that to be a small price to pay in exchange for delivering a crystal clear message to the Republicans that the days of taking the state's Conservatives for granted are over for good.
Author and conservative strategist Craig Shirley, also a native New Yorker, is one of them. "Conservatives in New York would do well to consider carefully at what point they will gag too much on a moderate/liberal nominated by the state's GOP and possibly nominate their own candidate, if only to teach the GOP establishment a lesson. Politics can be a noble calling, but this requires patience, discipline and the courage to say 'no' when you have to, political consequences be damned. The time for the New York Conservatives to say 'no' may well be upon them this year," Shirley said.
In a letter circulated to party activists last week in advance of the CPPAC conference, George J. Marlin, a Conservative Party elder who recently documented the party's distinguished history in his book Fighting the Good Fight, wrote:
In the past decade, Republicans have betrayed us on every conceivable issue... I urge you to support statewide candidates who do not fear standing up for our principles and are therefore willing to run this November solely on the Conservative line.
So where does the saga stand apres CPPAC? The aforementioned snow having prohibited your correspondent from covering events live from the scene, we turned to Chairman Long via telephone as the conference wrapped up:
CJ: How did the wannabes fare? I assume Weld, Daniels, Faso, and Manning were all on hand -- are any of them showing momentum amongst the faithful?
ML: All four were indeed on hand. Weld gained no ground whatsoever -- nothing changed there. All were received cordially, but it appears to me that while (Daniels) was a great speaker, Faso and Manning have clearly garnered most of the support amongst the rank and file.
CJ: If you had to make a prediction right now, how do you see this playing out? Do you get the sense that most of your folks support running an independent ticket if need be?
ML: There was great sentiment at CPPAC from our leaders throughout the state to mobilize rapidly behind our own candidate. This is important to help make the point to the Republicans that Weld is a no-go. If we pick the right candidate, it could position them to win a Republican primary statewide. I think most of our folks are willing to support either Faso or Manning as long as there's a clear commitment to run on the conservative party line regardless of whether they ultimately win the Republican nomination -- so that they will be our candidate, and in it to the end, regardless.
CJ: What is wrong with the NY Republican Party? Is it arrogance? Ineptitude? Both?
ML: None of the above, really. They have simply lost the will to stand for principle. They have lost the will to stand for true Republican ideas. They now believe in their own theory that New York State is a Blue State, so we all might as well start acting more like Democrats and less like Republicans -- particularly Conservative Republicans in the mold of Reagan.
CJ: Some have suggested a compromise scenario, whereby the Conservatives might go along with Weld if they were given the opportunity to choose his running mate. True?
CJ: Can conservatives outside of New York do anything to support you all in this?
ML: At the moment, not really. Once we designate a candidate for Governor, we'll need help in the form of contributions to the candidate, endorsements, columns in publications like the Spectator... we'll need all the help we can get from conservatives everywhere. I urge our allies to keep up with the developments by visiting the party website, www.cpnys.org.
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