- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2009

“Tea party” activists say Tuesday’s elections show that the Republican Party needs conservatives for victory, but the results suggest solidarity is more important: unified Republicans steamrolled in Virginia, while they fractured in New York and lost a House seat that they had held for more than a century.

As the parties took stock Wednesday, Democrats said they’ll work to reconnect with the young voters and independents who lifted them in 2008 but who didn’t turn out this week.

Republicans, meanwhile, basked in Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial wins but warily eyed their right flank as conservative activists said they’ve put the party on notice that fealty to values matters.

“We plan to play in competitive primaries where we see either a reason to block someone from coming into Congress or a reason to advance someone representing our values to the Congress, the Senate, or governorships,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and one of a host of conservative leaders who backed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in a special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.

Mr. Hoffman did indeed block liberal Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava from winning the seat, but Democratic candidate Bill Owens topped both of them to win the district.

Conservatives may have already had an effect. Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told ABC News that his committee won’t spend money to try to hand-pick a particular candidate in contested primaries.

Republican Party leaders who had backed Mrs. Scozzafava until she withdrew and endorsed the Democrat blamed a bad nominating process for the rupture and pleaded for national party unity going forward.

“I don’t see a victory in losing seats. I’m not in the business of division and subtraction. I’m in the business of multiplication and addition,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, though he also called the battle between conservatives and Republicans a “phony fight” and blamed the press for inflaming it.

New York’s fractious special election had echoes of a fight Virginia Republicans had in the past decade - ever since a budget showdown between then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III and state Sen. John Chichester, both Republicans, resulted in a bitterly divided party. Mr. Gilmore wanted to pursue tax cuts while Mr. Chichester said tax cuts should wait while the state spent more on infrastructure.

That battle cost Republicans dearly in 2001, when they ceded the governor’s mansion to Democrat Mark Warner. Republicans continued to feud throughout Mr. Warner’s four-year term, which helped Democrat Tim Kaine win the executive spot in 2005.

But this year, Republicans unified early in Virginia, and it was Democrats who held a bruising three-way primary. When the dust settled Tuesday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnellcruised to victory over Democratic nominee R. Creigh Deeds.

Mr. McDonnell won Fairfax County and rolled up big victories in Prince William and Loudoun counties. He also won in nine of the state’s 11 congressional districts - a warning sign to four of the state’s six Democratic congressmen.

Democrats and Republicans alike cited Mr. McDonnell’s yearlong effort to unify his party as a factor.

“Bob McDonnell had found his voice a long time ago. He knew who he was. I think up in New York, when the congressman from up there left, the Republicans on a national level were still trying to find their voice,” said Daniel F. Drummond, former chairman of the Fairfax City Democratic Party and a current city council member.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat, whose district went for Mr. McDonnell, said it was “a huge advantage” for the former attorney general.

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