- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

Political center takes right-hand turn

Victories by conservatives in New Jersey this week and in Virginia last week have shaken up the Republican establishment, calling into question the media's conventional wisdom of a lack of viability of conservative candidates during the Bush era.
Republicans long have worried about how they could improve their electoral performances in the Northeast, but Tuesday's victory by conservative New Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler over his establishment-supported rival, Bob Franks, for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, has convinced many in the party that New Jersey once governed by liberal Republican Christie Whitman may become more receptive to a conservative Republican message.
Mr. Schundler's victory has convinced some of Mr. Franks' supporters that a conservative candidate has a chance of winning the state's governorship.
"I personally am very enthusiastic about the opportunity for a real, live conservative to take a whack at winning in New Jersey," said David Norcross, a Republican National Committee member from the state who had been helping the Franks campaign but is now eager to help Mr. Schundler defeat Democrat Jim McGreevey in this fall's general election.
"New Jersey may be ready for a candidate willing to talk about issues frankly and honestly and take some risk in speaking plainly," said Mr. Norcross, who long has served as a liaison between the Republican Party's Northeast liberal wing and the national party's conservative base.
Yet Mr. Schundler's victory signifies a trend toward Republican candidates who are winning races on conservative platforms. Last week, conservative Republican J. Randy Forbes defeated liberal Democrat L. Louise Lucas in a special election in Virginia for a U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Norman Sisisky, a Democrat.
Since the close outcome of the presidential and congressional elections in November, a prevailing assumption of the media and political establishment is that the era of President Bush will be dominated by "moderate" politicians who can capture the "political center."
Even some in the conservative press for some time have criticized Republicans who espouse conservative messages, saying the political landscape is not receptive to ideologically polarizing politicians. This argument has drawn fire from some conservative pundits who believe the Republican Party should be more openly conservative, and that candidates such as Mr. Schundler represent the future of the party.
"What is it with conservative magazines and conservative candidates?" asked Joel C. Rosenberg, columnist for World, an Internet magazine. He noted that the conservative National Review panned Mr. Schundler's candidacy and that the Weekly Standard did the same, calling the New Jersey Republican's campaign ads "preposterous."
Mr. Rosenberg noted that the Standard said Mr. Schundler's "Reaganesque policies aren't 'resonating,' … his criticism of Bob Franks' liberal tax-raising record is 'absurd' Schundler has absolutely no chance of winning the general election."
The magazine said, "it's an open question whether a candidate of Schundler's sort could, if elected, even run a state like New Jersey."
Like many other conservatives, Mr. Rosenberg expressed astonishment at such predictions. "One expects such smug, sniveling, elitist snootiness from Dan Rather and The Washington Post," he said. "But must writers for supposedly conservative publications abandon and abuse ideological kindred spirits even as such candidates try to advance conservative principles?"
Republican consultant Charles Black has suggested one explanation. "Some get their philosophical and policy guidance from National Review and the Weekly Standard, but they are not campaign or political experts, and some of us political hacks recognized Schundler and his political message had a good chance," Mr. Black said.

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